US scientists discover the nervous system’s role in extending life

November 4, 2019

A protein, which has been known to regulate genes, has now been found to also affect the nervous system and could potentially slow ageing. Scientists at Harvard Medical School (HMS), US, suggest that the newfound knowledge of this protein and its relationship to neural activity begets exciting possibilities for therapeutic intervention, including targeted treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s or bipolar disorder.

The role of neural activity in ageing is characterised by the constant firing of electrical currents/transmissions in the brain – excessive activity could appear as a muscle twitch, a change in mood or thought, and so on.Blocking the protein, REST, was observed to result in higher neural activity and shorter lifespans in the experimented organisms, while boosting REST resulted in lower neural activity. The lower activity/excitation then activates another set of proteins that mediate longevity.

Additionally, a review of the human brain tissue of centenarians found significantly more REST in the nuclei of their brain cells than others who died between their 60s and 80s, suggesting the proteins could have far-reaching consequences for physiology and life span.

The discovery of REST’s role in longevity provides motivation to develop drugs that target the protein and modulate neural activity – “The possibility that being able to activate REST would reduce excitatory neural activity and slow aging in humans is extremely exciting,” said HMS Professor Monica Colaiácovo.


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