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Neurobiol Aging. 2002 Sep-Oct;23(5):695-705.

Neuroprotective and neurorestorative signal transduction mechanisms in brain aging: modification by genes, diet and behavior.

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Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center 4F01, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Cells in the brain deploy multiple mechanisms to maintain the integrity of nerve cell circuits, and to facilitate responses to environmental demands and promote recovery of function after injury. The mechanisms include production of neurotrophic factors and cytokines, expression of various cell survival-promoting proteins (e.g. protein chaperones, antioxidant enzymes, Bcl-2 and inhibitor of apoptosis proteins), protection of the genome by telomerase and DNA repair proteins, and mobilization of neural stem cells to replace damaged neurons and glia. The aging process challenges such neuroprotective and neurorestorative mechanisms, often with devastating consequences as in Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases and stroke. Genetic and environmental factors superimposed upon the aging process can determine whether brain aging is successful or unsuccessful. Mutations in genes that cause inherited forms of AD (amyloid precursor protein (APP) and presenilins), Parkinson's disease (alpha-synuclein and parkin) and trinucleotide repeat disorders (e.g. huntingtin and the androgen receptor) overwhelm endogenous neuroprotective mechanisms. On the other hand, neuroprotective mechanisms can be bolstered by dietary (caloric restriction, and folate and antioxidant supplementation) and behavioral (cognitive and physical activities) modifications. At the cellular and molecular levels, successful brain aging can be facilitated by activating a hormesis response to which neurons respond by upregulating the expression of neurotrophic factors and stress proteins. Neural stem cells that reside in the adult brain are also responsive to environmental demands, and appear capable of replacing lost or dysfunctional neurons and glial cells, perhaps even in the aging brain. The recent application of modem methods of molecular and cellular biology to the problem of brain aging is revealing a remarkable capacity within brain cells for adaptation to aging and resistance to disease.

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