Aging in the Brain: New Roles of Epigenetics in Cognitive Decline

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Abstract

Gene expression in the aging brain depends on transcription signals generated by senescent physiology, interacting with genetic and epigenetic programs. In turn, environmental factors influence epigenetic mechanisms, such that an epigenetic–environmental link may contribute to the accumulation of cellular damage, susceptibility or resilience to stressors, and variability in the trajectory of age-related cognitive decline. Epigenetic mechanisms, DNA methylation and histone modifications, alter chromatin structure and the accessibility of DNA. Furthermore, small non-coding RNA, termed microRNA (miRNA) bind to messenger RNA (mRNA) to regulate translation. In this review, we examine key questions concerning epigenetic mechanisms in regulating the expression of genes associated with brain aging and age-related cognitive decline. In addition, we highlight the interaction of epigenetics with senescent physiology and environmental factors in regulating transcription.

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