Harvard Medical School Researchers Discover Novel DNA Repair Mechanism That May Help Scientists Understand How Brain Neurons Breakdown As We Age And In Neurodegenerative Diseases

lenets_tan - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

Keeping the mind active by engaging in activities such as reading, playing games, and learning a new skill is thought to boost cognitive health as adults age.

Although using brain cells may help retain memory and other cognitive functions, scientists have also suggested that the activity damages neurons by inviting more DNA breaks.

This points to the age-old question, “How can neurons remain functional and healthy throughout individuals’ lifetimes?”

And recently, a research team from Harvard Medical School set out to answer this question. Through a study conducted on mice, they identified a novel DNA repair mechanism that exclusively occurs in neurons– which starts to explain why neurons continue functioning in the long term in spite of tough repetitive work.

The researchers specifically found that NPAS4–NuA4, a protein complex, opens a pathway in order to repair DNA breaks caused by neuronal activity.

“More research is needed, but we think this is a really promising mechanism to explain how neurons maintain their longevity over time,” said Elizabeth Pollina, the study’s co-first author.

If further animal and human studies are conducted, and the findings are confirmed, then scientists may better understand the breakdown process of brain neurons during aging and with neurodegenerative diseases.

Neurons are unlike most cells in the human body in that they do not replicate or regenerate. So, year after year, neurons work hard to change and remodel themselves in response to cues in our environment. This ensures that our brains can appropriately adapt and operate in the long term.

The process of remodeling is partly due to the activation of new gene transcription programs in the brain. Neurons utilize these programs to transform DNA into instructions for the assembly of proteins.

lenets_tan – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

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