Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain Announces New Research Awards

The Simons Collaboration on Plasticity and the Aging Brain is pleased to announce two new collaborative projects funded through its research awards program. These projects focus on potentially conserved mechanisms of aging-related cognitive resilience and reserve in the absence of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Thomas Clandinin and Philippe Mourrain of Stanford University will lead research aimed at understanding the sleep-dependent molecular mechanisms that underpin how neuronal membrane function is maintained over long timescales. The brain maintains broadly stable circuit function, reflected in the precise tuning of synaptic connections and neuronal morphology over days, months and years. As most neurons in the central nervous system survive throughout adult life, the homeostatic processes that maintain brain function must be nearly perfect over long timescales. At the same time, aging almost inevitably diminishes cognitive function, likely reflecting how slight imbalances in these homeostatic processes gradually accumulate to diminish the function of individual cells and specific circuits. The researchers hypothesize that sleep has a fundamental homeostatic function that maintains neuronal integrity and is thus a key regulator of the effects of aging.

Kristen O’Connell and Catherine Kaczorowski of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, are partnering with Vilas Menon of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Together, they will lead research to test whether resilience to cognitive aging is associated with gene expression patterns that promote the maintenance of normal neuronal excitability in the face of aging. As we age, most individuals will experience normal decline in cognitive abilities, including memory. These changes are a natural part of aging and are not associated with pathological causes of memory impairment or cognitive decline. However, rates of cognitive aging differ among individuals, with some people exhibiting high levels of cognitive function even late in life — a phenomenon known as cognitive resilience. While the causes of age-related cognitive degeneration are largely unknown, heritability estimates indicate a strong influence of unidentified genetic factors in age-related cognitive resilience. Identifying these factors represents an opportunity to develop new therapeutic approaches to enhance and preserve cognitive function in aging individuals.

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