Protein

Brain gains seen in elderly mice injected with human umbilical cord plasma

mouse hippocampus
YOUTHFUL GLOW In the hippocampus of a 1-month-old mouse, some nerve cells (red) produce the protein TIMP2 (green), which declines with age and may help keep the brain young. Blue indicates microglial cells.

Plasma taken from human umbilical cords can rejuvenate old mice’s brains and improve their memories, a new study suggests. The results, published online April 19 in Nature, may ultimately help scientists develop ways to stave off aging.

Earlier studies have turned up youthful effects of young mice’s blood on old mice (SN: 12/27/14, p. 21). Human plasma, the new results suggest, confers similar benefits, says study coauthor Joseph Castellano, a neuroscientist at Stanford University. The study also identifies a protein that’s particularly important for the youthful effects, a detail that “adds a nice piece to the puzzle,” Castellano says.

Identifying the exact components responsible for rejuvenating effects is important, says geroscientist Matt Kaeberlein of the University of Washington in Seattle. That knowledge will bring scientists closer to understanding how old tissues can be rejuvenated. And having the precise compounds in hand means that scientists might have an easier time translating therapies to people.

Kaeberlein cautions that the benefits were in mice, not people. Still, he says, “there is good reason to be optimistic that some of these approaches will have similar effects on health span in people.”

Like people, as mice age, brain performance begins to slip. Compared with younger generations, elderly mice perform worse on some tests of learning and memory, taking longer to remember the location of an escape route out of a maze, for instance. Researchers suspect that these deficits come from age-related trouble in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory.

Every fourth day for two weeks, Castellano and colleagues injected old mice with human…

Frog slime protein fights off the flu

Hydrophylax bahuvistara
Slime produced by Hydrophylax bahuvistara contains a newly identified flu-fighting protein called urumin, named for a type of sword used in the region of India where the frog resides.

The next flu drug could come from frog mucus. It’s not as crazy as it sounds: For decades, scientists have searched for new antiviral drugs by mining proteins that animals produce to protect themselves from microbes. In lab tests, proteins found in amphibian secretions can defend against HIV, herpes and now the flu.

David Holthausen of…

Jiggly gelatin: Good workout snack for athletes?

jello

Downing a gelatin snack along with some O.J. before exercising might limit injury to bones and muscles, a new study shows. This means the jiggly snack might have health benefits.

Gelatin is an ingredient made from collagen, the most abundant protein in an animal’s body. (Most Americans know gelatin as the basis of Jell-O, a popular treat.) Collagen is part of our bones and ligaments. So Keith Baar wondered if eating gelatin might help those important tissues. As a physiologist at the University of California, Davis, Baar studies how the body works.

To test his idea, Baar and his colleagues had eight men jump rope for six minutes straight. Each man did this routine on three different days. An hour before each workout, the researchers gave the men a gelatin snack. But it differed slightly each time. On one day it had a lot of gelatin. Another time, it had just a little. On a third day, the snack contained no gelatin.

Neither the athletes nor the researchers knew on which day a man got a particular snack. Such tests are known as “double blind.” That’s because both the participants and scientists are “blind” to the treatments at the time. That keeps people’s expectations from affecting how they initially interpret the results.

On the day the men ate the most gelatin, their blood contained the highest levels of collagen’s building blocks, the researchers found. That suggested that eating gelatin might help the body make more collagen.

The team wanted to know whether these extra collagen building blocks might be good for ligaments, a tissue that connects bones. So the scientists collected another blood sample after each rope-skipping workout. Then they separated out the blood’s serum. This is a protein-rich liquid left behind when the blood cells are removed.

The researchers added this serum to cells from human ligaments that they were growing in…