Reversing Aging's Terrible Toll on the Mind

UVA Brain Discovery Published in NATURE

The research team behind the latest discovery includes, from left, Antoine Louveau, Jonathan Kipnis, and Sandro Da Mesquita.
(Photo: Harry Moxley)

AGING LYMPHATIC VESSELS connecting the brain and the immune system play critical roles in both Alzheimer’s disease and the decline in cognitive ability that comes with time, new research reveals. By improving the function of these vessels, scientists at UVA have dramatically enhanced the ability of older mice to learn and improve their memories. The work may provide doctors an entirely new path to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, age-related memory loss, and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

The research is the latest from the lab of pioneering neuroscientist Jonathan Kipnis, chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience and director of its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. His team discovered in 2015 that the brain is surrounded by lymphatic vessels—vessels science textbooks insisted did not exist.

This discovery led the National Institutes of Health to award Kipnis the prestigious Director's Pioneer Award, which recognizes scientists with outstanding records of creativity as they pioneer new approaches to the biggest challenges in medical and behavioral research. UVA is the only institution in the Commonwealth with two Pioneer Award winners. (Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati of UVA's Department of Ophthamology also received the award prior to joining UVA.)

Kipnis’ work gives us the most complete picture yet of the role these vessels play in the brain’s ability to cleanse itself—and highlights their tremendous importance for brain function and healthy aging. This new discovery may offer a way to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s to the point that treatments are unnecessary—to delay it beyond the length of the current human lifespan. 

“If we can make old mice learn better, that tells me there is something that can be done,” Kipnis says. “I’m actually very optimistic that one day we could live to a very, very, very old age and not develop Alzheimer’s.” 

To read the journal article in NATURE, click here.

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