Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Why is this research important: Neurotrophins are a family of molecules that are crucial for the survival and growth of brain cells and their connections. Unfortunately, levels of these neurotrophins decline with age, which is thought to be partly responsible for declining cognitive function – especially where memory and susceptibility to neurodegenerative diseases is concerned. Researchers have attempted to treat such diseases by administering neurotrophins or otherwise targeting their receptors in the brain. These efforts have met with little success, with most treatments failing to reach the brain or having too many unwanted side effects.
What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers looked at a mushroom called Hericium erinaceus, also known as Lion’s Mane mushrooms. These mushrooms are a known source of neurotrophins that can effectively pass from the bloodstream and into the brain. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine, though generally not to treat neurological conditions. Researchers wanted to investigate the mushroom’s effect on brain cells in more detail and identify the main compounds responsible.
Key takeaway(s) from this research: Researchers identified two active compounds in Lion’s Mane mushrooms (NDPIH and hericene A) that were highly effective at promoting the growth of cultured rat neurons from the hippocampus, a region of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory. In particular, these extracts were effective in boosting the formation of growth cones, which are special structures that guide the formation of new connections between neurons.
Researchers then studied the effects of Lion’s Mane extract or hericene A in mice. They found that the treated mice had improved hippocampal memory, which is measured by mice’s ability to recognise previously encountered objects. They also found that treated mice had increased brain levels of a key neurotrophin called BDNF, and that this increase was dependent on the dose and type of extract, with hericene A extract being the most effective.
More research is needed to establish these properties in humans. However, given that Lion’s Mane appears to be safe to eat for most people, and may also have other benefits such as anticancer and antidepressive properties, it could be a low-risk supplement to delay memory impairment in old age.
Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory: https://doi.org/10.1111/jnc.15767
Title photo by Artur Kornakov on Upslash