Brain Researchers Find Fountain of Youth Molecular Switch [Study]

An older, stodgy brain can apparently be made young again by deactivating a specific gene, according to a study performed on mice.

Turning back the brain clock is good news for those of us who keep forgetting where we put our keys, glasses, and cell phone –or adults who want to learn a new language or musical instrument – but also for those who are dealing with serious brain-related injuries. Unlike rigid older brains, in general teenage or adolescent brains are considered more “plastic” or malleable and therefore can process new challenges with greater alacrity.

In the study, scientists at Yale University determined that a single gene, the Nogo Receptor 1, is the genetic switch for brain maturation after monitoring the mice synapses over several months. Adult mice bred without that receptor, or with the receptor turned off chemically, were able to master new tasks as quickly as adolescent mice and recover from brain injury faster too. The study revealed that “When [researchers] hemically plugged up the Nogo receptors in the brains of adult mice, they found that even mice whose brains had made the transition to plodding adulthood regained the speed of an adolescent brain at wiring and rewiring itself.”

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the Neuron journal.

The study about the potential benefits of turning off the Nogo Receptor for healthy brain functioning doesn’t merely have implications for ordinary human brain health and fending off age-related memory loss but for those persons who have suffered brain trauma. According to lead author Feras Akbik, “This raises the potential that manipulating Nogo Receptor in humans might accelerate and magnify rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes.”

The research findings may also be significant for those suffering with stress-related conditions. “Mice without Nogo receptor lost stressful memories more quickly, suggesting that manipulating the receptor could help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.”

These are only preliminary findings as they relate to cognitive skills, and a lot more needs to be done to extrapolate the potential for flipping the Nogo Receptor switch to the off position on humans. As Yale neurologist and study author Dr. Stephen Strittmatter remarked, “We know a lot about the early development of the brain, But we know amazingly little about what happens in the brain during late adolescence.” Clinical trials for human adults are now in the planning stages.