Fight Against Aging Enters a 'Whole New Era'

Young spinal fluid is seen to improve memory in older mice, per new research
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2022 12:09 PM CDT
Young Spinal Fluid Improves Memory in Older Mice
A technician holds a laboratory mouse at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Jan. 24, 2006.   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Researchers are heralding "a whole new era" in the search for Alzheimer's treatments, with a new study suggesting those treatments don't necessarily need to address damage in the brain. Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University previously showed infusions of blood from younger animals could reverse the effects of aging in older animals, as the New York Times reports. More recently, a young neuroscientist under his wing, Tal Iram, decided to see if something similar would happen in inserting cerebrospinal fluid—which coats the brain and spinal cord and nourishes brain cells with what the Times calls "health-promoting proteins"—from young mice into older mice. And it did.

The process wasn't easy. Iram had to withdraw the continuously replenishing fluid from a cavity near the back of the brains of hundreds of 10-week-old mice without contaminating it with blood. Each procedure elicited "about 10 microliters of cerebrospinal fluid—roughly one-fifth of the size of a drop of water," per the Times. The fluid and an artificial version were then inserted into older, often forgetful mice through a hole drilled in their skulls. The mice who received the young cerebrospinal fluid had stronger responses to visual and audio cues that they'd previously learned to associate with shocks, as reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. Indeed, they responded "about as well as their younger counterparts," per NPR.

"It highlights this notion that cerebrospinal fluid could be used as a medium to manipulate the brain," Iram tells the Times, which reports this is the latest sign that treating aging in the brain "might depend less on interfering with specific disease processes and more on trying to restore the brain's environment to something closer to its youthful state." While previous research on blood transfers led to clinical trials involving patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, that doesn't seem possible with cerebrospinal fluid. Extraction alone requires a spinal tap. However, it's possible scientists could imitate a critical protein in the fluid, fibroblast growth factor 17, or FGF17, which seemed linked to a process that leads to stronger nerve insulation in the brain. (More aging stories.)

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