New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science throws light on cells that could prevent deterioration of cognition in old age. These findings appear in the February issue of Nature Neuroscience.
Professor Michal Schwartz of the Neurobiology Department at Weizmann led the study, which might have important implication in delaying the onset of cognitive deterioration in the elderly. The researchers say that immune cells play a key role in the brain's capacity to maintain cognitive ability and cell renewal throughout life. Till recently, it was believed that the brain possessed a fixed number of neurons that do not regenerate if they die or degenerate. But recent research has highlighted the fact that certain areas in the brain do possess the ability to regenerate neurons. One such region is the hippocampus, which is believed to be the seat of memory. It is believed that the body triggers the mechanism by which the hippocampus steps up its regenerative abilities, but the manner in which this is done is not so clear. Schwartz's group demonstrated that this could be done by autoimmune cells. These cells are designed to recognize the body's own cells. But they are thought to be dangerous in the brain. This new research says that these cells may fight off senile diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, glaucoma, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as well as the nerve degeneration after a stroke or trauma. The team demonstrated this in lab mice by starving one set of mice of T-cells and other important immune cells. In these mice, a less number of new cells were formed. T cells could hold the key to the formation of new cells in the brain. To substantiate this, the scientists injected T cells in mice that did not have them. The cell renewal function was partially restored in these mice. ''These findings,'' said Prof Schwartz, ''give a new meaning to 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'. They show that we rely on our immune system to maintain brain functionality, and so they open up exciting new prospects for the treatment of cognitive loss.''
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science