Researchers Find Ways To Delay Aging In Mice
The mouse in the photo is actually middle aged, but he looks and acts like a teenager. Why? Well, according to a discovery by Harvard University researchers, it's because the mouse has maintained the synapses between his nerves and his muscles, a key factor in keeping him physically and mentally young.
Neuromuscular synapses - the signals from your brain to your muscles that tell them what to do - weaken or die as we age. Unless we reinforce these synapses, the nerves shrink, fail to cover the muscle, and very possibly cause the muscle to die.
Prior findings have shown that exercise and calorie restricted diets have helped delay signs and symptoms of aging. But the research undertaken by Joshua Sanes and Jeff Lichtman and postdoctoral researchers at Harvard wanted to know when and how that happens. They studied two groups of mice - one group that was put on a restricted calorie diet since birth, and the second group that was on a normal diet until old age and then put on a one-month exercise program.
All mice had been genetically engineered so that their nerve cells glowed in florescent colors; the better to observe their neuromuscular synapses. What the researchers found was that as the low calorie diet mice aged, they completely avoided age-related deterioration of the synapses. Those with normal diets, who were on a one-month exercise program when they became elderly, reversed much of the damage that had been done to their synapses through their lives in that one month of exercise.
So, both diet and exercise were found to be significant factors in attenuating and reversing neuromuscular activity. Would just an exercise program be as effective as a low calorie diet if started when the mice were young? That's the team's next research project.
"These findings in neuromuscular synapses make us curious to know whether similar effects might occur in brain synapses," said Sanes.