In 1998, a small worm had its genome sequenced. It was the first animal to have its genome completely sequenced. Back then, the human genome was still billions of dollars away. Today’s gene sequencing robots can map three human genomes a week. And future generations will only get faster and cheaper. With this technology at our disposal, researchers found that a gene linked to unusually long lifespans in humans also protects brain stem cells from the harmful effects of stress. Read on to discover how to activate this gene.
The Longevity Gene
Studies of humans who live longer than 100 years have shown that many share an unusual version of a gene called Forkhead box protein O3 (FOXO3). That discovery led Dr. Jihye Paik, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, and her colleagues to investigate how this gene contributes to brain health during aging.
In 2018, Dr. Paik and her team showed that mice who lack the FOXO3 gene in their brain are unable to cope with stressful conditions in the brain, which leads to the progressive death of brain cells. Their new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveals that FOXO3 preserves the brain’s ability to regenerate by preventing stem cells from dividing until the environment will support the new cells’ survival.
“Stem cells produce new brain cells, which are essential for learning and memory throughout our adult lives,” said Dr. Paik. “If stem cells divide without control, they get depleted. The FOXO3 gene appears to do its job by stopping the stem cells from dividing until after the stress has passed.”
Many challenges like inflammation, radiation or a lack of adequate nutrients can stress the brain. But Dr. Paik and her colleagues looked specifically at what happens when brain stem cells are exposed to oxidative stress, which occurs when harmful types of oxygen build up in the body.
Their findings showed that when exposed to oxidative stress, FOXO3 causes stem cells to go dormant and stop producing new neurons.
“This response is actually very good for the stem cells because the outside environment is not ideal for newly born neurons,” Dr. Paik explained.
“If new cells were made in such stressful conditions they would be killed. It’s better for stem cells to remain dormant and wait until the stress is gone to produce neurons.”
The study may help explain why certain versions of the FOXO3 are linked to extraordinarily long and healthy lives as they may help people keep a good reserve of brain stem cells.
But Dr. Paik cautioned it is too early to know whether this new information could be used to create new therapies for brain diseases. “It could be a double-edged sword,” Dr. Paik explained. “Over activating FOXO3 could be very harmful. We don’t want to keep this on all the time.”
To better understand the processes involved, she and her colleagues will continue to study how FOXO3 is regulated and whether briefly turning it on or off would be beneficial for health.
How To Activate FOXO3 Gene Naturally?
“All of us have the FOXO3 gene, which protects against aging in humans,” said Dr. Bradley Willcox, MD, Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine. But only about one in three persons carry a version of the FOXO3 gene that is associated with longevity. Fortunately, by activating the FOXO3 gene common in all humans, we can make it act like the “longevity” version.
FOXO3 can be activated by the following things:
- calorie restriction
- intermittent fasting
- EGCG (found in green tea)
- quercetin (found in onions and apples)
- using the sauna
- regular exercise