PNAS Study on Dietary Restriction In Mice
The latest issue of PNAS has this study on the impact of calorie restriction (CR) and exercise on the nervous system of aging mice.
Here is the abstract:
The cellular basis of age-related behavioral decline remains obscure but alterations in synapses are likely candidates. Accordingly, the beneficial effects on neural function of caloric restriction and exercise, which are among the most effective anti-aging treatments known, might also be mediated by synapses. As a starting point in testing these ideas, we studied the skeletal neuromuscular junction (NMJ), a large, accessible peripheral synapse. Comparison of NMJs in young adult and aged mice revealed a variety of age-related structural alterations, including axonal swellings, sprouting, synaptic detachment, partial or complete withdrawal of axons from some postsynaptic sites, and fragmentation of the postsynaptic specialization. Alterations were significant by 18 mo of age and severe by 24 mo. A life-long calorie-restricted diet significantly decreased the incidence of pre- and postsynaptic abnormalities in 24-mo-old mice and attenuated age-related loss of motor neurons and turnover of muscle fibers. One month of exercise (wheel running) in 22-mo-old mice also reduced age-related synaptic changes but had no effect on motor neuron number or muscle fiber turnover. Time-lapse imaging in vivo revealed that exercise partially reversed synaptic alterations that had already occurred. These results demonstrate a critical effect of aging on synaptic structure and provide evidence that interventions capable of extending health span and lifespan can partially reverse these age-related synaptic changes.
Technology Review has the scoop on the study here. Of particular note is the finding that CR is more effective in protecting against age-deterioration than exercise alone. A sample:
....The connections between your nerves and muscle deteriorate with age--a phenomenon that may help explain the serious loss of muscle that often strikes old people. New evidence suggests that caloric restriction--a nutritionally complete but low-calorie diet--could help prevent these changes. According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a very-low-calorie diet, and to a lesser extent exercise, can prevent or slow some aspects of muscle decline in aging mice.
....The findings are among the first to show that caloric restriction has a robust effect on the nervous system, which has been a matter of debate. "This paper demonstrates the protective effect of dietary restriction on muscle and the neurons that regulate muscle function," says Mobbs. "It's one of the most convincing papers I have seen demonstrating a protective effect of dietary restriction in neural function."
Those who are disinclined to diet for their whole lives still have hope, however. Mice that exercised for a month in old age also had healthier neuromuscular junctions, though the findings weren't as significant as those for caloric restriction. "Just a month of exercise actually seemed to reverse the course of the downward spiral," says Lichtman.
"If there were ever two scientists who did not want to hear this result, it's us," says Lichtman, of himself and Sanes. "We don't love to exercise, and I find it real torture to starve myself." Because few people want to or are able to maintain a severely restricted diet, scientists and drug developers are searching for molecules that can mimic these health-boosting effects.