The effects of aging were traditionally thought to be immutable, particularly evident in the loss of plasticity and cognitive abilities occurring in the aged central nervous system (CNS). However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that extrinsic systemic manipulations such as exercise, caloric restriction, and changing blood composition by heterochronic parabiosis or young plasma administration can partially counteract this age-related loss of plasticity in the aged brain. In this review, we discuss the process of aging and rejuvenation as systemic events. We summarize genetic studies that demonstrate a surprising level of malleability in organismal lifespan, and highlight the potential for systemic manipulations to functionally reverse the effects of aging in the CNS. Based on mounting evidence, we propose that rejuvenating effects of systemic manipulations are mediated, in part, by blood-borne ‘pro-youthful’ factors. Thus, systemic manipulations promoting a younger blood composition provide effective strategies to rejuvenate the aged brain. As a consequence, we can now consider reactivating latent plasticity dormant in the aged CNS as a means to rejuvenate regenerative, synaptic, and cognitive functions late in life, with potential implications even for extending lifespan.
We review evidence of brain rejuvenation focusing on several systemic manipulations – exercise, caloric restriction, heterochronic parabiosis, and young plasma administration – and their ability to restore regenerative capacity, synaptic plasticity, and cognitive function in the brain.