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Aging Dis. 2012 Feb;3(1):16-33. Epub 2011 Sep 30.

Maintaining brain health by monitoring inflammatory processes: a mechanism to promote successful aging.

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1
Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Abstract

Maintaining brain health promotes successful aging. The main determinants of brain health are the preservation of cognitive function and remaining free from structural and metabolic abnormalities, including loss of neuronal synapses, atrophy, small vessel disease and focal amyloid deposits visible by neuroimaging. Promising studies indicate that these determinants are to some extent modifiable, even among adults seventy years and older. Converging animal and human evidence further suggests that inflammation is a shared mechanism, contributing to both cognitive decline and abnormalities in brain structure and metabolism. Thus, inflammation may provide a target for intervention. Specifically, circulating inflammatory markers have been associated with declines in cognitive function and worsening of brain structural and metabolic characteristics. Additionally, it has been proposed that older brains are characterized by a sensitization to neuroinflammatory responses, even in the absence of overt disease. This increased propensity to central inflammation may contribute to poor brain health and premature brain aging. Still unknown is whether and how peripheral inflammatory factors directly contribute to decline of brain health. Human research is limited by the challenges of directly measuring neuroinflammation in vivo. This review assesses the role that inflammation may play in the brain changes that often accompany aging, focusing on relationships between peripheral inflammatory markers and brain health among well-functioning, community-dwelling adults seventy years and older. We propose that monitoring and maintaining lower levels of systemic and central inflammation among older adults could help preserve brain health and support successful aging. Hence, we also identify plausible ways and novel experimental study designs of maintaining brain health late in age through interventions that target the immune system.

KEYWORDS:

Aging; Brain health; Central inflammatory processes

PMID:
22500269
PMCID:
PMC3320802
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