Nutrients, neurogenesis and brain ageing: From disease mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities

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Abstract

Appreciation of the physiological relevance of mammalian adult neurogenesis has in recent years rapidly expanded from a phenomenon of homeostatic cell replacement and brain repair to the current view of a complex process involved in high order cognitive functions. In parallel, an array of endogenous or exogenous triggers of neurogenesis has also been identified, among which metabolic and nutritional cues have drawn significant attention. Converging evidence from animal and in vitro studies points to nutrient sensing and energy metabolism as major physiological determinants of neural stem cell fate, and modulators of the whole neurogenic process. While the cellular and molecular circuitries underlying metabolic regulation of neurogenesis are still incompletely understood, the key role of mitochondrial activity and dynamics, and the importance of autophagy have begun to be fully appreciated; moreover, nutrient-sensitive pathways and transducers such as the insulin-IGF cascade, the AMPK/mTOR axis and the transcription regulators CREB and Sirt-1 have been included, beside more established “developmental” signals like Notch and Wnt, in the molecular networks that dictate neural-stem-cell self-renewal, migration and differentiation in response to local and systemic inputs. Many of these nutrient-related cascades are deregulated in the contest of metabolic diseases and in ageing, and may contribute to impaired neurogenesis and thus to cognition defects observed in these conditions. Importantly, accumulating knowledge on the metabolic control of neurogenesis provides a theoretical framework for the trial of new or repurposed drugs capable of interfering with nutrient sensing as enhancers of neurogenesis in the context of neurodegeneration and brain senescence.

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