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New Findings in the Study of Aging

Contact: Jennifer Bonck

Photo of Greg A. Gerhardt, Ph.D.
Greg A. Gerhardt, Ph.D.

Changes in the brain, and subsequent progressive slowing of motor functions, are common features of aging in humans and non-human primates. In the study, 10 non-human primates, ranging in age from 21 to 27 years (equivalent to 63 to 81 years of age in humans), were treated with GDNF. The growth factor was directly delivered to the primate brains through implantable, programmable pumps, a delivery method also used in UK’s preclinical work in Parkinson’s disease. Before and after treatment, motor skills were tested. The motor skills of five young adult primates also were tested for comparison.

 

April 28, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- University of Kentucky College of Medicine researchers are increasing our understanding of the aging process.

Research conducted at the UK Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Research Center of Excellence may lead to future therapies for one of the most common features of aging, the progressive slowing of motor functions, such as walking, reacting, retrieving objects, and maintaining balance.

According to the results of a study published in the March 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, a natural growth factor, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), delivered directly to the brains of aged, non-human primates improves the slow arm movements of aged monkeys to the much faster speed range of young adults.

Changes in the brain, and subsequent progressive slowing of motor functions, are common features of aging in humans and non-human primates. In the study, 10 non-human primates, ranging in age from 21 to 27 years (equivalent to 63 to 81 years of age in humans), were treated with GDNF. The growth factor was directly delivered to the primate brains through implantable, programmable pumps, a delivery method also used in UK’s preclinical work in Parkinson’s disease. Before and after treatment, motor skills were tested. The motor skills of five young adult primates also were tested for comparison.

Before treatment with GDNF, the young adult primates were twice as fast as the aged primates in many motor skills tests, such as retrieving food from a receptacle. Overall, after treatment with GDNF, the motor skills of the aged primates were comparable to that of the young adults. These findings are promising, but more research is needed before they can be applied to humans.

The research team includes Richard Grondin, Ph.D., scientist; Wayne A. Cass, Ph.D., associate professor; Zhiming Zhang, Ph.D., research associate professor; John Stanford, Ph.D., scientist; Don M. Gash, Ph.D., professor and department chair; and Greg A. Gerhardt, Ph.D., professor and center director, all of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence, UK College of Medicine.

The study was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fond de la Recherche en Sante du Quebec, Canada, and by various U.S. Public Health Service grants.

The study also was supported by the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology’s Aging Program Project grant. The department recently received a competitive renewal award for the next five years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant “Aging of Central Dopaminergic Systems in Primates.” The program project grant, which was funded for its first five years beginning in 1997, is funded at a total of $4,059,620 through January 2008. Gash is the principal investigator of the grant.


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