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November 7, 2019
We all hope our brains keep firing on all cylinders as we grow old, but newly published research suggests a quieter mind may lead to a longer life.
As described in STAT, researchers at Harvard looked at donated brain tissue and discovered that people with a more active “REST” gene, which quiets neuronal activity, lived longer than those with a less active one. Given the arguably counterintuitive finding that quieter brains correlate with longevity, the researchers sought more evidence. They turned to mice and the worm c. elegans, finding similar results in each case.
Human brain tissue contains the data
In the humans, the researchers found that REST had been more active in the frontal cortex of people who lived to 85 or beyond than in the frontal cortex of brains whose owners died in their 60s or 70s. (Gene activity remains evident after death in brains that are properly frozen.) Later, the researchers inhibited neural activity in the worms, which lived around one-third longer — four weeks rather than the standard three. There were similar results in the mice.
“The animals could still function — we didn’t put their brains into hibernation,” Geneticist Bruce Yankner of Harvard Medical School, who led the research, told STAT. “But by suppressing neural activity you can affect the aging process.”
In search of mind-quieting drugs
The findings jibe with Yankner’s earlier findings that the REST gene protects aging brains against dementia. Researchers are now looking into what brain-quieting drugs might be safe and effective in supporting human longevity.
Human brain tissue samples, employed early in this research, are among the many human biospecimens – including tissue, biofluids and hematopoietic stem and immune cells – available through the iSpecimen Marketplace. Researchers can refine their specimen collections by a wide range of variables including demographics, diagnoses, medications, procedures and outcomes.
Although no one wants to lose a step in their twilight years, this research suggests that slowing down neuronal activity, at least, can indeed be good thing.
Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.