Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Protecting Newborns

Protein FOXO3 identified as important for neurogenesis - the process essential for memory and learning

15 March 2021

Protecting Newborns

The development of new neurons (green) from progenitor cells (blue) is known as neurogenesis. Within the human brain, neurogenesis occurs throughout life and is essential for continued learning and remembering. However, if neurogenesis happens too rapidly or when conditions are not favourable, such as during inflammation or stress, the progenitors may become depleted and the new cells damaged, potentially leading to memory issues. Indeed, in older individuals, low numbers of neural progenitors have been linked with cognitive decline. Scientists have now identified a factor that seems to protect against such depletion and damage. The protein, FOXO3, blocks neurogenesis if progenitors are experiencing oxidative stress – where reactive forms of oxygen damage proteins and DNA. By applying the brakes, FOXO3 essentially prevents cells developing until conditions improve. Interestingly, centenarians tend to have a particular version of FOXO3, suggesting their brains may be especially good at supplying and protecting new neurons.

Written by Ruth Williams

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