Science

Researchers find molecular switch to make old brains young again

Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)
Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)
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Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)
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Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that juvenile brains are more malleable and able to learn new things faster than adult ones – just ask any adult who has tried to learn a new language. That malleability also enables younger brains to recover more quickly from trauma. Researchers at Yale University have now found a way to effectively turn back the clock and make an old brain young again.

As we enter adulthood, our brains become more stable and rigid when compared to that of an adolescent. This is partially due to the triggering of a single gene that slows the rapid change in synaptic connections between neurons, thereby suppressing the high levels of plasticity of an adolescent brain. By monitoring the synapses of living mice for a period of months, the Yale researchers were able to identify the Nogo Receptor 1 gene as the key genetic switch responsible for brain maturation.

They found that mice without this gene retained juvenile levels of brain plasticity throughout adulthood and by blocking the function of this gene in old mice, the researchers were able to reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity. This allowed adult mice lacking the Nogo Receptor to recover from brain injury as quickly as adolescent mice, and also saw them master new, complex motor tasks faster than adult mice with the receptor.

“This raises the potential that manipulating Nogo Receptor in humans might accelerate and magnify rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes,” said Feras Akbik, Yale doctoral student.

The researchers also showed that the Nogo Receptor slows the loss of memory, so that mice without the Nogo Receptor lost stressful memories more quickly than those with the receptor. The researchers say this suggests that manipulating the receptor could help treat those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We know a lot about the early development of the brain. But we know amazingly little about what happens in the brain during late adolescence, said Dr. Stephen Strittmatter, Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology, Professor of Neurobiology and senior author of the paper which appears in the journal Neuron.

Source: Yale University

18 comments
Snake Oil Baron
But the high plasticity occurs at a time when judgement and emotional sophistication is lower and actually decreases somewhat during adolescence. I would want to know if I am going to start liking Twilight movies as a side effect before doing something just to make me better at trigonometry.
Joel Detrow
So pretty soon, you WILL be able to teach an old dog new tricks!
MBadgero
Where do I sign up?
Art Toegemann
Just keep your eye on the liability award from the trauma.
piperTom
Sounds good; might even be as good as it looks. Here in the U.S. there is a roadblock: the FDA will require a billion dollar study (and 15 years) before they'll approve it. ...Hmmm, maybe I'll plan a trip to India.
jochair
Dr. Stephen Strittmatter admits that there is a lot he doesn't know, That is a well known philosophical utterance, but I take the article personally, Now that I am 70, and should have a fossilized brain, I have just learned Spanish as my sixth language, fluid knowledge of a language is obtained by reading litterature and that is how it worked for me.
Walt Stawicki
good news: lay down more plastic connections. "learn" fast bad news : never forget anything. good news: recover from trauma bad news: " what trauma?" yet another trinket spilling from Pandoa's Box?
DonGateley
Jochair, at what age were you when you began learning another language? It is known that with each one learns the next becomes easier. If you first did this at a young age when your brain was plastic enough you gave yourself a lifetime skill that wouldn't diminish much with age. At 65 I tried for the first time to acquire another language without immersion and found it pretty near impossible. My IQ is embarrassingly high so that has little to do with it. This could be all the more revolutionary because if it's usable it will restore plasticity (which I am certain is linked to creativity) when one has a full arsenal of amassed experience. The flood of new thought that all that experience could bring to a newly plasticized brain might be too much to bear. The naturally decreasing plasticity might even prove to be a regulatory mechanism to keep us from the overload of cognitive hyperactivity (which could be madness.)
Patrick McGean
WE have found that adding organic sulfur a crystal food to the diets of young and old enables the use of the right brain. The Blood Brain Barrier and the Noble work of Rudy Tanzi who discovered trash i.e. amyloid plaque in the brain is the cause of Alzheimer's 1992. He was partially correct, the lack of sulfur in our diets allowed the mercury, aluminum, lead, plutonium and long list of negative biological heavy metals just build up, no sulfur to sulfate out the trash. Organic sulfur clears the blood brain barrier, no matter how old you are, and it make girls beautiful no matter their age. We study human who can tell us whether they remember who they are. We are what we eat. Got sulfur? organicsulfur@sisna.com is the Cellular Matrix Study
Gregg Eshelman
So long as making the brain young retains all the information. Youth is wasted on the young. Wouldn't it be nice to have a brain with 40 years of living in a 20 year old body?