Scientists in Scotland claim gene expression in the brain is so precisely controlled that they could predict your age just by looking at your genome.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe that genes in the brain are expressed at very specific times during a person’s life to carry out particular functions. Changes were seen in neuronal, glial and endothelial cells, meaning age could be predicted from tissue samples. The group proposes that a genomic ‘lifespan calendar’ controls age-dependent molecular organization in the brain and causes mutations that can lead to conditions such as schizophrenia.
The study looked at existing data that looked at gene expression throughout the human lifespan, up to the age of 78. It found that the biggest change occurs in early adulthood, at around 26 years, and the majority of changes were complete by middle age. Women’s brains aged slightly slower than men’s brains.
They believe that their findings could shed light on the genes that control diseases. For example, symptoms of schizophrenia tend not to appear until early adulthood despite being present in the individual from birth.
If true, it could provide a new approach to treating schizophrenia and other mental health problems. Professor Seth Grant of the University of Edinburgh believes in the potential of these findings: “The discovery of this genetic program opens up a completely new way to understand behavior and brain diseases throughout life.”
If these natural changes in the brain could be overridden, could age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s be prevented? In July, a group from the University of Sheffield published findings that identified a gene mutation responsible for the death of neurons in multiple neurodegenerative diseases. This is another example of research that could be adapted for treatments for conditions without any options.
With no curative treatments available for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the field is crying out for fresh ideas of how to tackle this growing problem. If this is not enough motivation, the Alzheimer’s drug market is expected to be worth $6.4B (€5.4B) by 2025.
Images – AjayTvm / shutterstock.com; graph taken from: http://www.forgetaboutalzheimers.com/about-alzheimers/