MADISON -- Eating less may be good for the health of your brain, and may help keep debilitating ailments such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases at bay.
That is the message derived from a pathbreaking study that employed a powerful new gene-scanning technique to analyze activity in thousands of genes to create a molecular portrait of the aging brain in mice.
The new study focuses on genetic activity related to two critical regions of the brain: the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain involved in the higher functions of thought, and the cerebellum, the brain structure that helps coordinate motor and muscle function.
Conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and to be reported in July in the British scientific journal Nature Genetics, the study provides new insight into the cognitive and motor skill deficits that occur with age. The results may also help to explain the basis of common neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
Cheol-Koo Lee, Richard Weindruch and Tomas A. Prolla, all of UW-Madison, profiled the action of 6,347 genes. The scientists charted changes in genetic activity in two groups of aging mice, one group on a standard diet and another group whose diet had been trimmed to 76 percent of the standard diet. The study builds on similar work of aging skeletal muscle by the same group of Wisconsin scientists and reported last year in the journal Science.
The new Wisconsin study shows that a reduced-calorie diet selectively lowers the age-associated increase in the activity of genes that encode inflammatory and free-radical-generated stress responses, says Weindruch, a UW-Madison professor of medicine. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that circulate in the body and can damage cells over time. Previous studies suggest that both inflammation and free-radical damage may play a role in the onset of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.