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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Feb 20;115(8):E1896-E1905. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1800165115. Epub 2018 Feb 7.

Normal aging induces A1-like astrocyte reactivity.

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Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305;
Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305.
Neuroscience Institute, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY 10016.
Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY 10016.
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA 02142.
Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Cambridge, MA 02139.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139.


The decline of cognitive function occurs with aging, but the mechanisms responsible are unknown. Astrocytes instruct the formation, maturation, and elimination of synapses, and impairment of these functions has been implicated in many diseases. These findings raise the question of whether astrocyte dysfunction could contribute to cognitive decline in aging. We used the Bac-Trap method to perform RNA sequencing of astrocytes from different brain regions across the lifespan of the mouse. We found that astrocytes have region-specific transcriptional identities that change with age in a region-dependent manner. We validated our findings using fluorescence in situ hybridization and quantitative PCR. Detailed analysis of the differentially expressed genes in aging revealed that aged astrocytes take on a reactive phenotype of neuroinflammatory A1-like reactive astrocytes. Hippocampal and striatal astrocytes up-regulated a greater number of reactive astrocyte genes compared with cortical astrocytes. Moreover, aged brains formed many more A1 reactive astrocytes in response to the neuroinflammation inducer lipopolysaccharide. We found that the aging-induced up-regulation of reactive astrocyte genes was significantly reduced in mice lacking the microglial-secreted cytokines (IL-1α, TNF, and C1q) known to induce A1 reactive astrocyte formation, indicating that microglia promote astrocyte activation in aging. Since A1 reactive astrocytes lose the ability to carry out their normal functions, produce complement components, and release a toxic factor which kills neurons and oligodendrocytes, the aging-induced up-regulation of reactive genes by astrocytes could contribute to the cognitive decline in vulnerable brain regions in normal aging and contribute to the greater vulnerability of the aged brain to injury.


RNA sequencing; aging; astrocytes; cognitive decline; microglia

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