Researchers here put forward evidence for reduced levels of FK506-binding protein 12.6/1b (FKBP1b) to be a proximate cause of age-related dsyregulation in calcium (Ca2+) signaling in the brain, which is itself both associated with and a possible cause of cognitive decline. The researchers reversed this decline with gene therapy in old rats and observed resulting improvements in specific measures of cognitive function:
Brain Ca2+ regulatory processes are altered during aging, disrupting neuronal, and cognitive functions. In hippocampal pyramidal neurons, the Ca2+-dependent slow afterhyperpolarization (sAHP) exhibits an increase with aging, which correlates with memory impairment. The increased sAHP results from elevated L-type Ca2+ channel activity and ryanodine receptor (RyR)-mediated Ca2+ release, but underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. Previously, we found that expression of the gene encoding FKBP1b, a small immunophilin that stabilizes RyR-mediated Ca2+ release in cardiomyocytes, declines in hippocampus of aged rats and Alzheimer's disease subjects. Additionally, knockdown/disruption of hippocampal FKBP1b in young rats augments neuronal Ca2+ responses. Here, we test the hypothesis that declining FKBP1b underlies aging-related hippocampal Ca2+ dysregulation.
Using microinjection of adeno-associated viral vector bearing a transgene encoding FKBP1b into the hippocampus of aged male rats, we assessed the critical prediction that overexpressing FKBP1b should reverse Ca2+-mediated manifestations of brain aging. Immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR confirmed hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression 4-6 weeks after injection. Compared to aged vector controls, aged rats overexpressing FKBP1b showed dramatic enhancement of spatial memory, which correlated with marked reduction of sAHP magnitude. Furthermore, simultaneous electrophysiological recording and Ca2+ imaging in hippocampal neurons revealed that the sAHP reduction was associated with a decrease in parallel RyR-mediated Ca2+ transients. Thus, hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression reversed key aspects of Ca2+ dysregulation and cognitive impairment in aging rats, supporting the novel hypothesis that declining FKBP1b is a molecular mechanism underlying aging-related Ca2+ dysregulation and unhealthy brain aging and pointing to FKBP1b as a potential therapeutic target.