Brain fitness: aging processes measurable


Brain fitness: Aging processes can be measured using lactic acid levels in the future

A Swedish-German team of researchers has determined that the aging process of the brain can be measured using the level of lactic acid. The lactic acid level rises before other aging symptoms appear and could thus serve as an indicator of aging and possible age-related diseases, the scientists explained when they published their research results in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)".

Lactic acid level as an indicator As part of the study, the Swedish-German research team had observed the lactic acid level in the brain of mice in order to draw conclusions about the onset of the aging process. As described in the current article of the "PNAS", the scientists examined the metabolic processes in the brain of normal and genetically modified mice, which tended to age prematurely. The experts were able to prove experimentally that the amount of lactic acid in the brains of the mice increased considerably before the first typical signs of aging, such as hair loss, hearing loss or osteoporosis, appeared. The effect occurred earlier in the genetically modified mice, but the unmodified animals also showed the same increases in lactic acid levels - albeit with a time delay. "It is exciting when you consider that we have now taken a step towards understanding what happens when the brain ages," emphasized Prof. Lars Olson from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

In particular, the insight “how important changes in brain metabolism are for disease-related processes and diseases” could make it much easier to grasp the fitness of the brain in the future. Because with the presented method, the aging process of the brain and the corresponding disease risk can be measured using the lactic acid level.

Damaged Mitochondria Increase Lactic Acid Generation The fact that the lactic acid level can serve as a guide for the aging of the brain has already been suspected in the past, since if the mitochondria are damaged, the metabolic pathway is converted to energy production, which increases the formation of lactic acid. The mitochondria present in almost all human cells act as tiny "energy power plants" by providing the cell with the high-energy molecule adenosine triphosphate. According to the results of previous studies, malfunctions in “energy power plants” can result in neurogenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. As soon as the mitochondria no longer function properly, the brain cells switched to an alternative metabolic pathway for energy production, which entails increased lactic acid production, the researchers explained. With increasing age of the brain, the damage to the mitochondria increases, the lactic acid production increases and the traces can be detected in the brain, according to Prof. Olson. Therefore, the lactic acid level offers a good indication of the aging processes in the brain and the corresponding risk of disease.

Aging process clearly demonstrated for the first time The process described by the scientists has now been clearly demonstrated for the first time when analyzing the metabolism in the mouse brains more precisely. Damaged "cell power plants" (mitochondria) meant that the cells used an oxygen-independent path (so-called glycolysis) to generate energy. This was accompanied by a significant increase in the production of lactic acid, which accumulated in the brain of the mice, according to the statement by Jaime Ross from the Karolinska Institute and colleagues who work at the University of Cologne and the Max Planck Institute there, among others. There are indications that such a process occurs not only in mice, but also in the brain of aging people, according to the scientists in the “PNAS” article.

Aging processes and risk of disease easier to determine If the same processes actually take place in the human brain, the lactic acid level could in future serve as an indicator of aging processes in the brain and the associated risk of disease. Since the lactic acid level rises even before the aging symptoms actually occur, the aging of the brain could in the future be diagnosed very early and possibly treated with appropriate countermeasures. The lactic acid level also has the advantage that, in contrast to other signs of aging, it can be determined easily and painlessly for the patient using a magnetic resonance imaging-like method. Given her results, Prof. Olson was confident: "We hope that the doctor will one day be able to do a brain check-up and determine the actual age of the brain." Prevention is the be-all and end-all, especially with diseases that occur more frequently in old age, such as the various forms of dementia or Parkinson's, since there are no cures. Here, such a brain check-up would make those affected aware of an increased risk of disease at an early stage and give them more scope for prevention. (fp, 03.11.2010)

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Image: A. Rausch / pixelio.de

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