The human brain is an extraordinarily powerful machine. So, imagine if science one day discovered a way to protect and even improve our most valuable piece of equipment by turning the dial up on one hormone. A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, collaborated with scientists from Gladstone Institutes to further investigate a hormone’s role in the brain, known as klotho, and published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"It's remarkable that we can improve cognition in a diseased brain despite the fact that it's riddled with toxins," the study’s lead author Dr. Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology and department chair in Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease at UCSF, said in a press release. "In addition to making healthy mice smarter, we can make the brain resistant to Alzheimer-related toxicity. Without having to target the complex disease itself, we can provide greater resilience and boost brain functions."

The brain-boosting power of klotho was closely investigated from the same group of researchers last year, and a study was published in the journal Cell Reports. Dubal and her team have followed up on their promises to take another look at all of the potential klotho could have on people and animals’ life span, and its ability to protect the brain from Alzheimer-causing brain toxins.

Scientists discovered klotho had the power to extend and protect life more than 10 years ago, but it’s only now they’re seeing how it can prevent “cognitive decline that comes with aging,” Dubal said. In fact, the brain-enhancing effects were strong enough to counteract the effects of Alzheimer-related toxins. They believe it may have something to do with its effect on NMDA, a certain brain signal receptor that’s integral to learning and memory in the brain.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, characterized by an abnormal type of aging. As scientists are slowly but steadily unraveling the mysteries of the brain, it’s becoming clearer the answers can be found in the brain itself. Currently, there’s no cure or treatment to halt Alzheimer’s progression, but scientists are learning new ways to temporarily slow it down. By raising levels of klotho in the body, for example, scientists may have just unlocked a new way to treat the brain and ultimately rid this life-altering disease from human existence.

"The next step will be to identify and test drugs that can elevate klotho or mimic its effects on the brain," the study’s senior author Dr. Lennart Mucke, professor at UCSF and director of the Gladstone Institutes of Neurological Disease, said in a press release. "We are encouraged in this regard by the strong similarities we found between klotho's effects in humans and mice in our earlier study. We think this provides good support for pursuing klotho as a potential drug target to treat cognitive disorders in humans, including Alzheimer's disease."

Source: Dubal DB, Mucke L, Zhu L, Sanchez P, Wroden K, and Boestl L, et al. Journal of Neuroscience. 2015.

Dubal DB, Mucke L, Yokoyama JS, Broestl L, Worden K, and Wwang D, et al. Life Extension Factor Klotho Enhances Cognition. Cell Reports. 2014.