January 19, 2009

Brain’s aging gene identified

Canadian researchers have identified a gene that controls the normal and pathological aging of neurons in the central nervous system: Bmi1.

A research team from the University of Montreal, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said the primary risk factor for diseases such as macular degeneration, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's is age.

Although many researchers have sought to better understand the genetics and pathophysiology of these diseases, few studies have focused on the basic molecular mechanisms that control neuronal aging.

Study leader Gilbert Bernier, a doctor the University of Montreal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, identified a mutation in mice that dramatically accelerates the process of aging in the brain and the eye.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, reveals neurons in the retina and cerebral cortex require a gene called Bmi1 to prevent activation of the p53 pathway and the accumulation of free radicals.

Overall, we have now established that the Bmi1 gene is a direct regulator of cell aging in brain and retinal neurons of mammals through its action on the defense mechanisms against free radicals, Bernier said in a statement.