A treatment for dementia? ‘Klotho’ protein turbocharges the brain in old monkeys – and experts say it could work in humans too
- People who have high levels of klotho are less likely to develop dementia
- A single injection of the protein can boost cognitive function in older monkeys
A drug to turbocharge the brain in old age has come a step closer.
A single injection of a protein called klotho can boost cognitive function in older monkeys, a study has found.
People who have a high level of klotho, because of a genetic quirk, have better brainpower and are less likely to develop dementia.
But scientists want to understand whether topping up the protein could help supercharge thinking skills.
Having previously discovered injecting mice with klotho could boost their cognitive function, they have now found the same result in rhesus macaques, which are more similar to humans, and suffer cognitive decline like us as they age.
A single injection of a protein called klotho can boost cognitive function in older monkeys, a study has found (stock image)
This raises hopes for klotho, which is named after the mythological Greek figure Clotho who spun the thread of human life.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), carried out a study using 18 macaques with an average age of almost 22 – the equivalent of a 65-year-old person.
They gave a subset of the animals an injection of klotho equivalent to the level seen in people at birth.
These monkeys performed better in a test which required them to remember the location of a food treat among up to nine possible locations, following a delay of up to 32 seconds.
The study authors conclude: ‘Because klotho levels decrease in human aging, our data showing that a lower dose of klotho (comparable to five times baseline levels and similar to levels observed at birth) can enhance cognition in aged non-human primates suggest that peripheral treatment or replenishment with this endogenous hormone may prove therapeutic in aging humans.’
Neuroscientist Dr Dena Dubai, senior author of the study from UCSF, who had studied klotho for years, has previously said on its anti-ageing potential: ‘Ageing is the biggest risk factor for cognitive problems, and cognitive problems are one of the biggest biomedical challenges that we face.
People who have a high level of klotho, because of a genetic quirk, have better brainpower and are less likely to develop dementia (stock image)
‘Why don’t we just block ageing?’
The Japanese researchers who named klotho found that the amount produced by mice could affect how long the rodents lived.
People with higher levels also live longer.
Klotho is believed to boost brainpower by enhancing the function of synapses – the gaps between brain cells in which they ‘talk’ to each other using electrical signals.
In the current monkey study, the boost to cognitive function in monkeys injected with the protein was found to last for at least two weeks.
Neuroscientist Dr Dena Dubai, senior author of the study from UCSF, who has studied klotho for years, said: ‘Cognitive impairment is a problem in ageing and dementia, which can erode our language, memories and the essence of who we are.
‘But these results suggest that klotho could be a treatment which could really work in people, to keep our brains healthy in old age.
‘We need clinical trials urgently to see if that’s the case.’
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society