Using Genes to Boost Brain Power: Live Longer, Think Better
Does your family have a history of living to a ripe old age? That may bode well for you! Not only does a gene linked to longevity seem to help you live longer, it also makes you smarter. The study I am referring to was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health and offers a new way to boost brain power.
So what genes are we talking about– well right now it seems that people with the gene KLOTHO have improved brain skills such as thinking, learning and memory regardless of their age, sex, or whether they have a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Here is where it gets even more interesting though, increasing KLOTHO gene levels in mice made them smarter, possibly by increasing the strength of connections between nerve cells in the brain.
“This could be a major step toward helping millions around the world who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said Dena Dubal, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology, the David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegeneration at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the lead author of the study published in Cell Reports. “If we could boost the brain’s ability to function, we may be able to counter dementias.”
With the increased lifespan seen in the recent generations, thanks mostly to medical advancements, has brought with it a surge of different forms of dementia, [which is just a collection of brain disorders that can cause memory problems, impaired language skills and can bring with it other symptoms]. So with the number of dementia cases worldwide estimated to double every 20 years from 35.6 million people in 2010 to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, the need for treatments is growing. Unfortunately dementia treatment has been lacking, so new ways to treat the disorders are always welcome.
The KLOTHO gene gets its name from a Greek mythological goddess of fate, “who spins the thread of life.” People who have one copy of a variant, or form, of the KLOTHO gene, called KL-VS, tend to live longer and have lower chances of suffering a stroke whereas people who have two copies may live shorter lives and have a higher risk of stroke.
In the study, the researchers found that people who had just one copy of the KL-VS variant performed better on a battery of cognitive tests than subjects who did not have it, regardless of age, sex or the presence of the apolipoprotein 4 gene [which is the main genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease].
The KLOTHO gene provides the blueprint for a protein made primarily by the cells of the kidney, placenta, small intestine, and prostate. A shortened version of the protein can circulate through the blood system. Blood tests showed that subjects who had one copy of the KL-VS variant also had higher levels of circulating klotho protein.
What is interesting is that the researchers showed a relationship between that circulating protein and intelligence. To do this the researchers genetically engineered mice to overproduce klotho protein. The klotho-enhanced mice lived longer and had higher levels of klotho in the blood and in the hippocampus [ the part of the brain that controls some types of learning and memory].
Similar to the human studies, the klotho-enhanced mice performed better on a variety of learning and memory tests, regardless of age. In one test, the mice remembered the location of a hidden target in a maze better, which allowed them to find it twice as fast as control mice. How cool is that?!
Now if only I could remember what I did with my keys…
Since I already made a hippocampus joke more than once, if you are tired of them then you probably want the full study —here!
Hey we even have a nice little video to explain it all [since you were so nice to read what I wrote].
Dubal D., Yokoyama J., Zhu L., Broestl L., Worden K., Wang D., Sturm V., Kim D., Klein E. & Yu G.Q. & (2014). Life Extension Factor Klotho Enhances Cognition, Cell Reports, DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.03.076