'Fountain of youth' on the brain says study

THE 'fountain of youth' is quite literally on the mind with new research suggesting a small component in the brain holds the key to ageing.

The hypothalamus, a small group of neurons at the base of the brain, has long been linked with ageing.

But a new study, published in Nature, shows that stem cells within this region can be manipulated to reinvigorate brain function, muscle strength and slow the ageing process.

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York discovered that stem cells in the hypothalamus disappear as mice grow older.

However, when injected with a virus, the mice rapidly aged losing memory, strength, endurance and coordination. They also died quicker than untreated mice of the same age.

But when the scientists injected stem cells from the hypothalamic of newborn mice into the brains of older mice, the subjects showed higher levels of cognitive and muscular function than untreated mice and, remarkably, lived about 10 per cent longer.

The researchers found the stem cells release molecules called microRNAs, which help regulate gene expression, and when these molecules were injected into the mice, they slowed cognitive decline and muscle degeneration.

Lead investigator Professor Dongsheng Cai said the discovery could eventually stop the ravages of time.

"Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal and this decline accelerates ageing," he said.

"But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it's possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of ageing throughout the body."

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