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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Jun 18;116(25):12524-12533. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1902672116. Epub 2019 Jun 3.

Specific factors in blood from young but not old mice directly promote synapse formation and NMDA-receptor recruitment.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305;
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305.


Aging drives a progressive decline in cognition and decreases synapse numbers and synaptic function in the brain, thereby increasing the risk for neurodegenerative disease. Pioneering studies showed that introduction of blood from young mice into aged mice reversed age-associated cognitive impairments and increased synaptic connectivity in brain, suggesting that young blood contains specific factors that remediate age-associated decreases in brain function. However, whether such factors in blood from young animals act directly on neurons to enhance synaptic connectivity, or whether they act by an indirect mechanism remains unknown. Moreover, which factors in young blood mediate cognitive improvements in old mice is incompletely understood. Here, we show that serum extracted from the blood of young but not old mice, when applied to neurons transdifferentiated from human embryonic stem cells, directly increased dendritic arborization, augmented synapse numbers, doubled dendritic spine-like structures, and elevated synaptic N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, thereby increasing synaptic connectivity. Mass spectrometry revealed that thrombospondin-4 (THBS4) and SPARC-like protein 1 (SPARCL1) were enriched in serum from young mice. Strikingly, recombinant THBS4 and SPARCL1 both increased dendritic arborization and doubled synapse numbers in cultured neurons. In addition, SPARCL1 but not THBS4 tripled NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic responses. Thus, at least two proteins enriched in young blood, THBS4 and SPARCL1, directly act on neurons as synaptogenic factors. These proteins may represent rejuvenation factors that enhance synaptic connectivity by increasing dendritic arborization, synapse formation, and synaptic transmission.


NMDA receptors; aging; synapse; synaptic transmission; synaptogenesis

[Available on 2019-12-03]

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