In the first study to look specifically at the effects of life-long calorie-restricted diets on brain cells, University of Florida researchers determined certain proteins linked to cell death that naturally increase with age were significantly reduced in the brains of rats whose calories were limited.
More important, they found the levels of a beneficial protein known to provide potent protection against neuron death were twice as high in older rats whose calories were restricted by 40 percent.
The findings could have significant implications not only for alleviating the memory loss and other mental declines that accompany normal aging, but also for a host of disorders related to excessive loss of brain cells, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, which together afflict an estimated 4 million people in the United States.
"In normal aging, there's a variety of factors that could alter the internal environment of the cell and make it more prone to die. We would like to stop this," said Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, director of the Biochemistry of Aging Laboratory at UF's College of Health and Human Performance. "Cells in neurons, muscle and heart have very low regenerative capacity, so obviously you don't want to lose a lot of them."
The findings of his study, supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Aging, are expected to be published Jan. 2 in the online edition of the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
The mechanisms of aging are complex, but as time passes, neurons of the brain and central nervous system are thought to be increasingly susceptible to apoptosis, a genetically programmed series of events leading to cell death. Apoptosis can occur as a normal process to destroy old cells so new
Contact: Christiaan Leeuwenburgh
University of Florida