Research Seeks Ways to Reverse Disability of “Old Age”
The loss of mobility in older adults, known as aging-related Parkinsonism, is sometimes dismissed as “just old age,” but the disability could be prevented or even reversed, if a theory being tested in an LSU Health Shreveport research lab is proven to be true.
Assistant Professor Michael Salvatore, PhD, has been awarded a 4-year grant totaling more than $1 million from the National Institutes of Health to determine molecular deficiencies in specific areas of the brain that cause decreased mobility as we age. Dr. Salvatore and his team will study how the neurotransmitter dopamine and its regulating-enzyme, tyrosine hydroxylase, are affected by aging. His research will also test whether exercise and calorie restriction could change the impact of aging on these molecular targets.
The scientists will explore the possibility that Mother Nature provides a set amount of this receptor, which is somehow “used up” as we age.
By figuring out the mechanism, scientists could ultimately develop medications and therapeutic strategies to improve movement in older adults.
Aging-related Parkinsonism has a major impact on those 65 and over, with a 15% risk at age 65, and then doubling each decade so that by age 85 the percentage escalates to 50%.
The condition is not treatable and can include a cluster of symptoms from infirmity to the inability to move at all. It is associated with increased numbers of injuries from falls and falling-related deaths. While the condition is similar to Parkinson’s Disease, Dr. Salvatore’s speculation is that a different area of the brain may be responsible for the problems with locomotion that are seen in Parkinsonism and that a receptor that regulates dopamine production in that area may be lost as we age. His lab will test that theory by injecting this growth factor receptor into lab rats --thus replacing the protein that is lost --to see how their mobility is affected.
He likened the experiments to “taking dictation from Mother Nature and following her instructions to put back what was lost by aging.”
The second part of the research will test a non-invasive way of doing the same thing, Dr. Salvatore said, that is whether exercise and a 30% reduction in calories may have the same effect as the growth factor by boosting dopamine production.
The results could help our burgeoning aging “boomer” population continue to perform their daily activities into old age and greatly reduce disability and injury, Dr. Salvatore noted. In addition, it could help middle-aged people devise lifetime habits to prevent decreased mobility as they age.
A member of the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Neuroscience, Dr. Salvatore has focused his research career on the neurobiology of aging and Parkinson’s Disease, inspired by his own mother’s battle with the disease.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG040261. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.