October 17, 2019
The brain’s neural activity — long implicated in disorders ranging from dementia to epilepsy — also plays a role in human aging and life span, according to research led by scientists in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
The study, published today in Nature, is based on findings from human brains, mice, and worms and suggests that excessive activity in the brain is linked to shorter life spans, while suppressing such overactivity extends life.
The findings offer the first evidence that nervous system activity affects human longevity. Although previous studies had suggested that parts of the nervous system influenced aging in animals, the role of neural activity in aging, especially in humans, remained murky.
“An intriguing aspect of our findings is that something as transient as the activity state of neural circuits could have such far-ranging consequences for physiology and life span,” said study senior author Bruce Yankner, professor of genetics at HMS and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging.
Neural excitation appears to act along a chain of molecular events famously known to influence longevity: the insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signaling pathway.
Neural activity refers to the constant flicker of electrical currents and transmissions in the brain. Excessive activity, or excitation, could manifest in numerous ways, from a muscle twitch to a change in mood or thought, the authors said.