Researchers at Stanford University just published a study in Nature that may give new hope to those looking to stop the effects of aging on the brain. The study found that when blood from a young mouse was injected into an older mouse, that older mouse enjoyed what could almost be termed a “rejuvenation effect”: it began producing more neurons, firing more activity across synapses, and even suffered less inflammation.
Interestingly, performing the reverse, in which a young mouse was injected with blood (or, more accurately, plasma, which is the parts of blood without blood cells), resulted in young mice with distinctly elderly attributes–increased inflammation, a reduction in the production of new neurons, that kind of thing. The researchers used plasma because blood cells are actually too large to travel through the blood-brain barrier into the brain. But certain chemokines, small proteins secreted by cells, are indeed small enough to pass through, and the team actually isolated several that could be causing this effect.
It’s a pretty fascinating study, as nobody had ever really believed that the degeneration of the brain with age could have been due to blood from elsewhere in the body, rather than merely a natural slowdown in the production of new neurons. The lack of new neurons can cause things like forgetfulness, specifically in spatial memory–forgetting where your car is parked, that kind of thing–so the ability to halt or reverse that process could mean amazing things for older people.
It may not make you live longer, but it’s still a pretty amazing discovery.