Scientists have discovered how the brain ages. Ageing in neurons follows the same rules as in senescing fibroblasts, the cells which divide in the skin to repair wounds, say researchers.
Newcastle University's Professor Thomas von Zglinicki who led the research said: "We want to continue our work looking at the pathways in human brains as this study provides us with a new concept as to how damage can spread from the first affected area to the whole brain."
DNA damage responses essentially re-program senescent fibroblasts to produce and secrete a host of dangerous substances including oxygen free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) and pro-inflammatory signalling molecules. This makes senescent cells the 'rotten apple in a basket' that can damage and spoil the intact cells in their neighbourhood. However, so far it was always thought that ageing in cells that can't divide - post-mitotic, non-proliferating cells - like neurons would follow a completely different pathway.
Professor von Zglinicki, professor of Cellular Gerontology at Newcastle University said: "We will now need to find out whether the same mechanisms we detected in mouse brains are also associated with brain ageing and cognitive loss in humans. We might have opened up a short-cut towards understanding brain ageing, should that be the case."
Dr Diana Jurk, who did most of this work during her PhD in the von Zglinicki group, said: "It was absolutely fascinating to see how ageing processes that we always thought of as completely separate turned out to be identical. Suddenly so much disparate knowledge came together and made sense."