A recently published study in the prestigious Nature review suggests that memory loss associated with aging is due to inflammatory factors in the blood that prevent the formation of new nervous system cells. Therefore, adopting a lifestyle that reduces inflammation, notably physical activity, could have a major impact when it comes to maintaining good brain function.
Even if we have long thought that the quantity of nervous system cells (neurons) did not vary during adulthood, we now know that cerebral tissue contains other cells capable of creating new, functional neurons. These new neurons, created through the process of neurogenesis, are important as they allow the brain to be able to count on a constant stream of functioning cells to carry out the processes essential to memory, as well as to the acquisition of new knowledge.
To identify all of these factors, a team of researchers from California used a surgical approach to make animals share the same blood circulation (similar to what happens with conjoined twins). This "blood link" has stunning effects when an aging mouse is put in contact with the circulation of a young mouse: the neurogenesis is considerably increased in the old mouse, while it is reduced in the younger one. Also, when a young mouse is repeatedly injected with the blood of an old mouse, its learning capabilities are diminished. These observations therefore suggest that, with age, blood accumulates factors that reduce the creation of new neurons and provokes a reduction of its cognitive abilities.
Inflammation and memory
By comparing the blood of young and older mice, the researchers found that the reduction of cognitive function that accompanies aging was linked with a considerable increase in the levels of CCL11, a protein known to play a role in the inflammatory process.
The importance of these inflammation factors is huge: When the levels of CCL11 are increased in young squirrels, this presents as a reduction in neurogenesis as well as cognitive problems. Because the quantities of this inflammatory protein increase equally with the age of humans, these observations suggest that the reduction of neurogeneis and memory loss associated with aging are consequences linked directly to inflammation.
This discovery is important, as it allows us to think seriously about how we can reduce cerebral aging by controlling the levels of inflammatory compounds found in our circulation. In that sense, it is interesting to note that the activities that cause powerful anti-inflammatory action, specifically exercise, are known as one of the best lifestyle factors that can reduce the decline of cognitive function and the risk of neurodegenitive disorders.
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