Longevity gene contributes to preservation of brain stem cells under stress

A team of scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine has studied the mechanism by which a gene commonly found in centenarians protects brain cells from oxidative stress. The results are published in Nature Communications.

The research shows that many older people who have lived to 100 years or more have an unusual version of the FOXO3 gene, which encodes a protein called Forkhead box O3. Study co-author Dr. Jihe Pike and his colleagues decided to find out what role this protein plays in keeping the brain healthy as we age.

Scientists showed that in FOXO3 gene knockout mice, the body is unable to cope with a stressful state in the brain, leading to neuronal death.

The present study demonstrates that the protein encoded by the FOXO3 gene, when the concentration of free radicals that cause oxidative stress increases, blocks the division of stem cells, thereby preventing their depletion. This happens until the environment becomes favorable again for the growth of new cells.

It is possible that this mechanism could explain why certain FOXO3 genotypes are associated with high longevity and why physical activity, which increases FOXO3 protein levels, contributes to improved cognitive abilities in old age. However, these results are not yet sufficient to use this information to create new therapies for brain diseases.

Feb. 20, 2021, 12:41 p.m.

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