Gene variant associated with better aging, cognitive function, study finds

Posted: January 27, 2015 at 5:42 pm

People who carry a gene variation associated with longevity have better brain cognition and are more resilient to aging, new research has found, paving the way for future treatments for brain aging and disease.

Using whole-brain analysis of healthy older adults, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that those who had the gene variation, a single copy of the KLOTHO allele, called KL-VS, had larger volumes in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) of their brains and therefore slightly better cognitive function.

KL-VS codes for a protein, called klotho, that circulates in the body and is present throughout the animal kingdom. Its long been known that klotho, which is produced in the kidneys and brain, regulates aging.

The rDLPFC region, which interacts with many other brain regions, is most known for its role in executive function, higher-level cognitive skills used to control and coordinate cognitive abilities and behaviors, such as attention, working memory, and decision-making.

This type of cognition is really important in sophisticated and very simple types of thinking, first author Jennifer Yokoyama, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF told

The rDLPFC is very vulnerable to aging and tends to get smaller, leading to lower cognition, Yokoyama added.

What our data means in the bigger picture is that people who carry the genetic code, one in five people, that confers a decade of resilience against expected decline in executive function and size of that region, senior author Dr. Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF, told

The team also found that two copies of KL-VS, about three percent of people, was associated with a shorter lifespan, increased cardiovascular risk, worsened cognitive function, and a smaller rDLPFC.

The findings are one of the first showing the positive effect of a genetic variant on brain aging, researchers said, adding to their previously published research that found that boosting the level of KL-VS in mice lead to longer lifespan and increased brain function. With this understanding, scientists are one step closer to predicting healthy brain aging and treatment for diseases affecting rDLPFC, such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

The question we are answering next is what does this mean for [brain] disease and how can this be translated into some kind of therapeutic to help people suffering? Dubal said.

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Gene variant associated with better aging, cognitive function, study finds

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