Researchers say they may have worked out how to reverse brain aging by decades in a ‘jaw-dropping’ scientific breakthrough.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of Queensland in Australia, found that when given PF4, a protein naturally found in the blood, older mice recovered the sharpness of middle age, and young mice got smarter.
Researchers examined the effects of PH4 on two-year-old mice, equivalent to a 70-year-old human, and said their cognitive function was restored to that of a 30 or 40-year-old.
Older animals treated with PF4, a protein made by platelets and naturally found in the blood, performed better on memory and learning tasks
PF4, a blood cell made by platelets, can help restore brain function by calming the immune system and stopping inflammation, which leads to aging in the brain and body.
Scientists also discovered a blood transfusion from younger mice to older mice, exercise and klotho, a gene involved in the aging process, were all ways to introduce more PF4 into the body.
Saul Villeda, associate director of the UCSF Bakar Aging Research Institute and senior author of the study, said: ‘Young blood, klotho, and exercise can somehow tell your brain, “Hey, improve your function.”
‘With PF4, we’re starting to understand the vocabulary behind this rejuvenation.’
Dr Dena Dubal, a professor of neurology at UCSF and a researcher who studied the effects of klotho, said: ‘When we realized we had independently and serendipitously found the same thing, our jaws dropped.
‘The fact that three separate interventions converged on platelet factors truly highlights the validity and reproducibility of this biology.
‘The time has come to pursue platelet factors in brain health and cognitive enhancement.’
However, the research is still preliminary and would need to be studied in humans as well as mice.
It is also unclear what knock-on effects shutting the immune system down to prevent aging could have on the human body, such as affecting our ability to fight off disease.
In the PF4 study, researchers found injecting the protein into older animals restored some of their brain function by calming down the immune system in the body and brain.
These animals performed better on memory and learning tasks.
Villeda said: ‘PF4 actually causes the immune system to look younger; it’s decreasing all of these active pro-aging immune factors, leading to a brain with less inflammation, more plasticity and eventually more cognition.
‘We’re taking 22-month-old mice, equivalent to a human in their 70s, and PF4 is bringing them back to function close to their late 30s, early 40s.’
In the second study, scientists found the body produced more PF4 after a shot of klotho.
PF4 had a dramatic effect on the part of the brain responsible for making memories and increased its formation of new connections.
It gave both old and young animals a brain boost in behavioral tests, which Dr Dubal said means ‘there’s room to go even in young brains to improve cognitive function.’
In the research that studied exercise, the team found platelets released PF4 into the bloodstream following physical activity.
But Tara Walker, lead study author and professor of neuroscience at the University of Queensland, said: ‘For a lot of people with health conditions, mobility issues or of advanced age, exercise isn’t possible, so pharmacological intervention is an important area of research.
‘We can now target platelets to promote neurogenesis, enhance cognition and counteract age-related cognitive decline.’
The three papers were published in the journals Nature, Nature Aging and Nature Communications.