Aging

Researchers at the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MGH-MIND) have identified a potential new drug target for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and possibly for other degenerative neurological disorders.

The investigators have found, in cellular and animal models, that blocking the action of an enzyme called SIRT2 can protect the neurons damaged in Parkinson’s disease from the toxic effects of alpha-synuclein, a protein that accumulates in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. The study also suggests that inhibiting this pathway could help in the treatment of other conditions in which abnormal proteins accumulate in the brain.

Subjecting mice to repeated emotional stress, the kind we experience in everyday life, may contribute to the accumulation of neurofibrillary tangles, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, report researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. While aging is still the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, a number of studies have pointed to stress as a contributing factor.


Top left: In unstressed animals the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of memories and learning, is free of phosphorylated tau.

Northwestern University researchers have discovered a drug that slows – and may even halt – the progression of Parkinson’s disease. The drug rejuvenates aging dopamine cells, whose death in the brain causes the symptoms of this devastating and widespread disease.

D. James Surmeier and his team of researchers have found that isradipine, a drug widely used for hypertension and stroke, restores stressed-out dopamine neurons to their vigorous younger selves.

A study comparing more genetic markers in the DNA of people with and without Alzheimer’s disease than ever before has enabled researchers to identify a common gene that appears to increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The finding suggests that the gene — called GAB2 — modifies an individual’s risk when associated with other genes, including APOE4. The study results appear in the June 7 issue of the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Neuron.

Birth weight has significant and lasting effects, a new study finds. Weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth increases the probability of dropping out of high school by one-third, reduces yearly earnings by about 15 percent and burdens people in their 30s and 40s with the health of someone who is 12 years older.

Ecstasy is an illicit recreational drug popular among young people, according to background information in the article. Research in both humans and animals suggests that the drug can harm the brain. Ecstasy may damage nerve cells that respond to the hormone serotonin, which is involved in mood, thinking, learning and memory.

What did dinosaurs hear? Probably a lot of low frequency sounds, like the heavy footsteps of another dinosaur, if University of Maryland professor Robert Dooling and his colleagues are right. What they likely couldn't hear were the high pitched sounds that birds make.


This diagram illustrates the relationship among archosaurs, which includes dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds. The drawings are of the inner ear structure of the different species. The numbers to the left are the time scale in million years. Today's birds are the closest living relatives of the extinct dinosaurs. Credit: University of Maryland

A natural compound found in blueberries, tea, grapes, and cocoa enhances memory in mice, according to newly published research. This effect increased further when mice also exercised regularly.

"This finding is an important advance because it identifies a single natural chemical with memory-enhancing effects, suggesting that it may be possible to optimize brain function by combining exercise and dietary supplementation," says Mark Mattson, PhD, at the National Institute on Aging.

People whose blood shows signs of inflammation are more likely to later develop Alzheimer's disease than people with no signs of inflammation, according to a new study.

The study, which is part of the larger Framingham Heart Study, involved 691 healthy people with an average age of 79. Blood tests determined whether the participants had signs of inflammation. Then the participants were followed for an average of seven years. During that time, 44 of the participants developed Alzheimer's disease.

Early-stage research has found that a new gene therapy can nearly eliminate arthritis pain, and significantly reduce long-term damage to the affected joints, according to a study published today in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.

While the study was done in mice, they are the first genetically engineered to develop osteoarthritis like humans, with the same genetic predisposition that makes some more likely to develop the disease, the authors said. If all goes well with a follow-up study currently underway, researchers will apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to begin human trials next year.