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Longevity Gene May Be a Brain Booster

If you’re lucky, you inherited a longevity gene that will up your chances of living to a ripe old age. Better yet, scientists at the University of California San Francisco have shown that people who have a variant of a longevity gene called KLOTHO are blessed with superior brain skills such as thinking, learning, and memory regardless of their age, sex, or even whether they have a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Klotho is the name of a Greek mythological goddess of fate, "who spins the thread of life." The study was funded in part by by the National Institutes of Health and published in May 2014 in the journal Cell Reports.

A release from NIF quotes lead author Dena Dubal, M.D., Ph.D. as saying, "This could be a major step toward helping millions around the world who are suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. If we could boost the brain's ability to function, we may be able to counter dementias."

The release notes that as people live longer, the effects of aging on the brain will become a greater health issue. This is especially true for dementias, a collection of brain disorders that can cause memory problems, impaired language skills and other symptoms. With the number of dementia cases worldwide estimated to double every 20 years from 35.6 million people in 2010 to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, the need for treatments is growing.

People who have one copy of a variant, or form, of the KLOTHO gene, called KL-VS, tend to live longer and have lower chances of suffering a stroke whereas people who have two copies may live shorter lives and have a higher risk of stroke. In this study, the investigators found that people who had one copy of the KL-VS variant performed better on a battery of cognitive tests than subjects who did not have it, regardless of age, sex or the presence of the apolipoprotein 4 gene, the main genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

"This study shows the importance of genes that regulate the multiple aging processes involved in the maintenance of cognitive function," said Suzana Petanceska, Ph.D., program director in NIA's Division of Neuroscience. "Understanding the factors that control the levels and activity of KLOTHO across multiple organ systems may open new therapeutic avenues for prevention of age-related cognitive decline and dementia."

The investigators tested a variety of cognitive skills, including learning, memory, and attention. More than 700 subjects, 52 to 85 years old were tested as part of three studies. None had any sign of dementia. Consistent with previous studies, 20 to 25 percent of the subjects had one copy of the KL-VS variant and performed better on the tests than those who had no copies. Performance on the tests decreased with age regardless of whether a subject had one or no copies of the KL-VS gene variant.

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