Genetic brain aging clock.

Researchers Discover Brain Aging Genetic Clock

Summary:  Researchers announced yesterday that they discovered a genetic brain aging clock that controls how our brains age according to a precise timetable. This discovery holds promise that scientists can prevent our brains from aging. 

Imagine keeping your mind sharp as a teenager’s while you grow older, even into your twilight years.

Yesterday’s announcement brings us one step closer to realizing that dream, as researchers have discovered a genetic clock that ages our brains due to a predetermined timetable.

Knowing how the brain aging clock operates brings doctors one step closer to developing treatments that stop the clock, and maybe even reversing it, restoring our brains to a youthful state.

Genetic Brain Aging Clock
Researchers can predict the age of individual humans and mice by their genetic changes. Source: Skene (2017)

Telling Time by the Brain Aging Clock

On Tuesday, a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh (UE) announced the discovery of a hidden discover genetic timetable that control’s our brain’s aging process. The scientists say our brain aging clock possesses a precise timing mechanism. So accurate, in fact, that the research team can tell a person’s age of a person by looking at the genetic changes in a sample of brain tissue.

The researchers published their findings in the journal eLife. Leading up the team that reported the discovery is Professor Seth Grant, Head of the Genes to Cognition Laboratory at UE, who declared:

“The discovery of this genetic program opens up a completely new way to understand behavior and brain diseases throughout life.”

Members of the research team announced that the brain-aging clock works using a genetic program that controls how and when brain genes are expressed at different times in our lives.

In performing their study, the team analyzed data that measured gene expression in brain tissue samples from as early as fetal tissue up to people 78 years old.  The researchers found that brain-aging clock follows a set timing pattern, expressing genes according to a strict timetable throughout the lifespan. The researchers noted that the brain-aging clock stops in middle-age.

Co-author of the study, Research Scientist Dr. Nathan Skene, who works at UE’s Center for Clinical Brain Sciences, pointed out:

“Many people believe our brain simply wears out as we age. But our study suggests that brain aging is strictly controlled by our genes.”

The genetic brain aging clock runs slightly faster in men.
The genetic brain aging clock runs slower in women. Credit: Getty Images.

Brain Aging Clock Runs Slower In Fairer Sex

The team found that the genetic brain aging clock runs slightly slower in women, implying that the female brain ages more slowly.

The brain changes the most during young adulthood, peaking around age 26 when the biggest reorganization of genes occurs. Coincidentally, these brain changes affect the same genes that are thought to cause schizophrenia. The researchers feel that this phenomenon explains why schizophrenics do not show symptoms until young adulthood.

The research team also found a similar genetic program in mice, which implies that all mammals possess a  genetic brain aging clock.

Stopping the Brain Aging Clock

The researchers announced that they plan to study how the body controls the brain aging clock, with the goal of developing therapies that could reverse schizophrenia and reduce brain aging. The researchers announced that their next step is:

“to study how the genetic lifespan calendar programs changes throughout the brain and to explore if it could be manipulated to change how the brain ages. This could help to develop new types of treatments for schizophrenia and other conditions of the brain.”

Bottom Line

The discovery that a genetic timetable controls brain aging brings us one step closer to realizing the dream of keeping our minds sharp as we age and curing genetic-induced brain disorders, especially schizophrenia.  By understanding how the brain aging clock works, scientists can develop treatments that stop it, and maybe even reverse it, restoring our minds to a youthful state.

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This article is featured in the collection of dementia treatment reports of 2017.

Nathan G Skene et al. A genomic lifespan program that reorganizes the young adult brain is targeted in schizophrenia. eLife (2017). eLife 2017;6:e17915 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.1791

The University of Edinburgh. “Scientists discover genetic timetable of brain’s aging process.” Public Release: September 11, 2017. (Press Release)


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