Transplanting bone marrow from young mice into old mice can slow down the ageing of their brains, potentially pointing to a way of slowing cognitive decline in humans, too.
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found inside bones that is responsible for generating billions of fresh blood cells every day. Scientists at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles gave 18-month-old mice bone marrow transplants from four-month-old mice or mice of the same age. Six months later, the mice that had received the young bone marrow performed better on tests measuring their activity level, learning ability, and spatial and working memory.
After examining the hippocampus, a region of the brain that’s important for memory, the researchers found that mice with the young transplants had more ‘synapses’, or connections, between their neurons, which are crucial for brain performance. It’s thought that the blood cells produced by the young bone marrow have a special property which keeps the synapses connected as they age.
The team are now looking at ways in which this work could be translated into treatments for humans. “We are entering an era in which there will be more elderly people in the population along with an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, putting a huge burden on the health system,” said Prof Clive Svendsen, co-senior author of the study. Bone marrow transplants for this purpose in humans are not currently feasible, but Svendsen is working on creating “personalised” blood stem cells.
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