Brain aging: A Ianus-faced player between health and neurodegeneration


Journal of Neuroscience Research


11 January, 2019


Vanni S, Colini Baldeschi A, Zattoni M, Legname G


Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable debilitating disorders characterized by structural and functional neuronal loss. Approximately 30 million people are affected worldwide, and this number is predicted to reach more than 150 million by 2050. Neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and prion diseases among others. These disorders are characterized by the accumulation of aggregating proteins forming amyloid, responsible for the disease-associated pathological lesions. The aggregation of amyloidogenic proteins can result either in gaining of toxic functions, derived from the damage provoked by these deposits in affected tissue, or in a loss of functions, due to the sequestration and the consequent inability of the aggregating protein to ensure its physiological role. While it is widely accepted that aging represents the main risk factor for neurodegeneration, there is still no clear cut-off line between the two conditions. Indeed, many of the pathways that are commonly altered in neurodegeneration-misfolded protein accumulation, chronic inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired iron homeostasis, epigenetic modifications-have been often correlated also with healthy aging. This overlap could be explained by the fact that the continuous accumulation of cellular damages, together with a progressive decline in metabolic efficiency during aging, makes the neurons more vulnerable to toxic injuries. When a given threshold is exceeded, all these alterations might give rise to pathological phenotypes that ultimately lead to neurodegeneration.