‘Older bees provide clues to fighting dementia’

July 5th, 2012 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 5 (IANS) Surprisingly, older honey bees can reverse brain aging or dementia when they take on nest responsibilities handled by much younger bees, according to scientists from a US university.

Researchers at the Arizona State University say these findings could open the way to treating age-related dementia, even though current research focuses on potential new drug treatments.

A team of researchers from Arizona and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, led by Gro Amdam from Arizona School of Life Sciences, showed that tricking older, foraging bees into doing social tasks inside the nest causes changes in the molecular structure of their brains.

“We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae - the bee babies - they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them,” said Amdam, an associate professor, the journal Experimental Gerontology reports.

“However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function basically measured as the ability to learn new things,” he said, according to an Arizona statement.

“We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question. What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?” Amdam asked.

Amdam’s international team not only saw a recovery in the bees ability to learn, they discovered a change in proteins in the bees’ brains. When comparing the brains of the bees that improved relative to those that did not, two proteins noticeably changed.

They found Prx6, a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia, including diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and they discovered a second and documented ‘chaperone’ protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when brain or other tissues are exposed to cell-level stress.

In general, researchers are interested in creating a drug that could help people maintain brain function, yet they may be facing up to 30 years of basic research and trials.

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