As we get older, we start thinking more about our quality of life. Even though people are living longer in the United States, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have long lives with good quality. A big question on our minds is how well our brains will work as we age. Let’s break down some key points about brain health.
First off, our brain cells, called neurons, don’t divide like other cells. This means they can’t naturally get rid of their faulty parts through cell division, making them more prone to damage. Adding to this, the process of autophagy (aw-TAWHF-uh-gee), which helps clean up the brain, slows down as we age, making our nervous system more vulnerable.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common aging-related brain disease in the United States. Studies show that brain cells involved in Alzheimer’s have low or not enough autophagy activity. This lack of cleanup leads to the buildup of amyloid-beta and tau proteins, which are signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Identifying the autophagy (ATG) genes has been crucial in understanding the early stages of this disease.
Next up is Parkinson’s disease, the second most common age-related brain condition. In Parkinson’s, the neurons in the brain that produce dopamine gradually die. Problems with autophagy, where the brain can’t clean up properly, have been found to play a big role in starting and worsening Parkinson’s. When scientists looked at the brains of people who passed away from Parkinson’s, they found a buildup of material that hinted at impaired autophagy.
So, why should we care about autophagy? Well, it’s like a cleanup crew for our important brain cells, helping to get rid of things that shouldn’t be there. It’s an essential process to keep our brains healthy as we age!”