Researchers say they may have worked out how to reverse brain aging decades in a “stunning” scientific breakthrough.
Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of Queensland in Australia found that when given PF4, a protein naturally found in the blood, older mice regained middle-aged acuity and young mice became smarter.
Researchers examined the effects of PH4 on two-year-old mice, equivalent to a 70-year-old human, and said their cognitive function was restored to that of a 30- or 40-year-old.
Older animals treated with PF4, a protein made by platelets and found naturally in the blood, performed better on memory and learning tasks
PF4, a blood cell made by platelets, may help restore brain function by calming down the immune system and stopping inflammation, which leads to brain and body aging.
Scientists also discovered a blood transfusion from younger mice to older mice, exercise, and klotho, a gene involved in the aging process, were all ways to introduce more PF4 into the body.
Saul Villeda, associate director of the UCSF Bakar Aging Research Institute and senior author of the study, said, “Young blood, klotho and exercise can somehow tell your brain, ‘Hey, improve your function.’
“With PF4, we’re beginning to understand the vocabulary behind this rejuvenation.”
Dr. Dena Dubal, a professor of neurology at UCSF and a researcher who studied the effects of klotho, said, “When we realized we had independently and by chance found the same thing, our jaws dropped.
“The fact that three separate interventions converged on platelet factors really highlights the validity and reproducibility of this biology.
“The time has come to pursue platelet factors in brain health and cognitive enhancement.”
However, the research is still preliminary and should be studied in both humans and mice.
It’s also unclear what knock-on effects shutting down the immune system to prevent aging might have on the human body, such as impairing our ability to fight disease.
In the PF4 study, researchers found that injecting the protein into older animals restored some of their brain function by calming down the immune system in the body and brain.
These animals performed better on memory and learning tasks.
Villeda said: ‘PF4 actually makes the immune system look younger; it reduces all of these active pro-aging immune factors, leading to brains with less inflammation, more plasticity, and ultimately more cognition.
“We take mice that are 22 months old, which is equivalent to a human in their 70s, and PF4 gets them back to functioning by their late thirties, early forties.”
In the second study, scientists found that the body produced more PF4 after a shot of klotho.
PF4 had a dramatic effect on the part of the brain responsible for making memories and increased the formation of new connections.
It gave both old and young animals a brain boost in behavioral tests, which Dr Dubal says means ‘there’s still room to go even in young brains to improve cognitive function’.
In the study that studied exercise, the team found that platelets released PF4 into the bloodstream after physical activity.
But Tara Walker, lead author of the study and professor of neuroscience at the University of Queensland, said: ‘For many people with health problems, mobility problems or advanced age, exercise is not an option, so pharmacological intervention is an important area of ??research.
“We can now target platelets to promote neurogenesis, improve cognition and counteract age-related cognitive decline.”
The three papers have been published in the journals Nature, Nature Aging and Nature Communications.