A team of Canadian and American researchers has reached a step closer to developing effective treatments to prevent the brain from diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's by identifying a gene that controls the normal and pathological aging of neurons in the central nervous system.
The team - comprising scientists from the Universite de Montreal, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - have revealed that the Bmi1 gene was identified while they were carrying out experiments on mice.
The researchers highlighted the fact that the primary risk factor for diseases like macular degeneration, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's is age.
They further said that no significant study, focused on the basic molecular mechanisms that control neuronal aging, had been conducted to date.
Lead researcher Gilbert Bernier, of the Universite de Montreal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, said that the research team had identified a mutation in mice that dramatically accelerates the process of aging in the brain and the eye.
Revealing the findings of the study, the researcher said that neurons in the retina and cerebral cortex require the Bmi1 gene to prevent activation of the p53 pathway and the accumulation of free radicals.
"Overall, we have now established that the Bmi1 gene is a direct regulator of cell aging in brain and retinal neurons of mammals through its action on the defense mechanisms against free radicals," said Dr. Bernier.
The study has been published in The Journal of Neuroscience.