Investigating Sodium Channels in the Aging Brain

Researches find another way in which the brain declines with age: "New findings [reveal] a novel mechanism through which the brain may become more reluctant to function as we grow older. ... researchers examined the brain's electrical activity by making recordings of electrical signals in single cells of the hippocampus, a structure with a crucial role in cognitive function. In this way they characterised what is known as "neuronal excitability" - this is a descriptor of how easy it is to produce brief, but very large, electrical signals called action potentials; these occur in practically all nerve cells and are absolutely essential for communication within all the circuits of the nervous system. ... The [researchers] identified that in the aged brain it is more difficult to make hippocampal neurons generate action potentials. Furthermore they demonstrated that this relative reluctance to produce action potential arises from changes to the activation properties of membrane proteins called sodium channels, which mediate the rapid upstroke of the action potential by allowing a flow of sodium ions into neurons. ... Much of our work is about understanding dysfunctional electrical signalling in the diseased brain, in particular Alzheimer's disease. We began to question, however, why even the healthy brain can slow down ... Previous investigations elsewhere have described age-related changes in processes that are triggered by action potentials, but our findings are significant because they show that generating the action potential in the first place is harder work in aged brain cells. Also by identifying sodium channels as the likely culprit for this reluctance to produce action potentials, our work even points to ways in which we might be able modify age-related changes to neuronal excitability, and by inference cognitive ability." You might compare this with past work on potassium channels and memory in aging.



Wording like "modify age-related changes to [...] cognitive ability" is a euphemism for rejuvenation, because the changes in question are obviously deleterious and the pertinent "modification" consists of undoing them. This blog has been quite critical of mainstream research objectives on the whole, but I think this kind of study is on the right track overall.

Posted by: Jose at February 2nd, 2012 10:06 PM

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