Old Blood Impairs Young Brains

A study suggests that age-related chemical signals in blood impair the growth of new neurons, but young blood can refresh old brains.

Courtney Humphries

It’s a cliché of vampire tales that young blood is preferable to old, but a new study suggests there’s some truth to it.

A paper published today in Nature finds that when younger mice are exposed to the blood of older mice, their brain cells behave more like those found in aging brains, and vice versa. The researchers who carried out the work also uncovered chemical signals in aged blood that can dampen the growth of new brain cells, suggesting that the decline in brain function with age could be caused in part by blood-borne factors rather than an intrinsic failure of brain cells.

To arrive at the discovery, the researchers studied pairs of old and young mice that were literally joined at the hip. They used a technique called parabiosis, in which two mice are surgically joined together along the flank, which causes them to develop a shared circulatory system. The technique has been used to study the development of the blood system, and more recently has been used to investigate the effects of age by joining old and young mice.

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Brain boost: Normally the brains of older mice (left) grow fewer new neurons (dark brown) than when the animals were younger. But when older mice shared the blood of younger mice, their neurons grew more robustly (right).
Credit: Saul Villeda

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