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Damaged genes in aging human brain provide clues to cognitive decline

Unraveling the mysteries of the aging brain is a major goal for brain science, especially given the exploding population of senior citizens and the obvious desire to preserve brain function as long as possible. Now, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School have uncovered a kind of genetic signature associated with the aging human brain that may contribute to cognitive decline associated with aging. The study appears June 9 as an advance on-line publication of the journal Nature.

One of the study's more surprising results was that these gene changes start in the 40s for some individuals. The results raise intriguing questions about when and why the brain begins to age and the possibility of developing strategies to protect critical genes early in life in an attempt to preserve brain function and delay the onset of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

To investigate age-associated molecular changes in the human brain, Dr. Bruce A. Yankner, professor in the Department of Neurology and Division of Neuroscience at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues examined patterns of gene expression in postmortem samples collected from thirty individuals ranging in age from 26 to 106 years. Using a sophisticated screening technique called transcriptional profiling that evaluates thousands of genes at a time, the researchers identified two groups of genes with significantly altered expression levels in the brains of older individuals. A gene's expression level is an indicator of whether or not the gene is functioning properly.

"We found that genes that play a role in learning and memory were among those most significantly reduced in the aging human cortex," said Yankner. "These include genes that are required for communication between neurons."

In addition to a reduction in genes important for cognitive function, there was an elevated expression of ge
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Contact: Susan Craig
susan.craig@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
9-Jun-2004


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