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Researchers find molecular switch to make old brains young again


March 7, 2013

Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)

Researchers at Yale University have now found a molecular switch that can give an adult brain the plasticity of a young brain (Image: Shutterstock)

It’s no secret that juvenile brains are more malleable and able to learn new things faster than adult ones – just ask any adult who has tried to learn a new language. That malleability also enables younger brains to recover more quickly from trauma. Researchers at Yale University have now found a way to effectively turn back the clock and make an old brain young again.

As we enter adulthood, our brains become more stable and rigid when compared to that of an adolescent. This is partially due to the triggering of a single gene that slows the rapid change in synaptic connections between neurons, thereby suppressing the high levels of plasticity of an adolescent brain. By monitoring the synapses of living mice for a period of months, the Yale researchers were able to identify the Nogo Receptor 1 gene as the key genetic switch responsible for brain maturation.

They found that mice without this gene retained juvenile levels of brain plasticity throughout adulthood and by blocking the function of this gene in old mice, the researchers were able to reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity. This allowed adult mice lacking the Nogo Receptor to recover from brain injury as quickly as adolescent mice, and also saw them master new, complex motor tasks faster than adult mice with the receptor.

“This raises the potential that manipulating Nogo Receptor in humans might accelerate and magnify rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes,” said Feras Akbik, Yale doctoral student.

The researchers also showed that the Nogo Receptor slows the loss of memory, so that mice without the Nogo Receptor lost stressful memories more quickly than those with the receptor. The researchers say this suggests that manipulating the receptor could help treat those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We know a lot about the early development of the brain. But we know amazingly little about what happens in the brain during late adolescence, said Dr. Stephen Strittmatter, Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology, Professor of Neurobiology and senior author of the paper which appears in the journal Neuron.

Source: Yale University

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Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

But the high plasticity occurs at a time when judgement and emotional sophistication is lower and actually decreases somewhat during adolescence. I would want to know if I am going to start liking Twilight movies as a side effect before doing something just to make me better at trigonometry.

Snake Oil Baron

So pretty soon, you WILL be able to teach an old dog new tricks!

Joel Detrow

Where do I sign up?


Just keep your eye on the liability award from the trauma.

Art Toegemann

Sounds good; might even be as good as it looks. Here in the U.S. there is a roadblock: the FDA will require a billion dollar study (and 15 years) before they'll approve it. ...Hmmm, maybe I'll plan a trip to India.


Dr. Stephen Strittmatter admits that there is a lot he doesn't know, That is a well known philosophical utterance, but I take the article personally, Now that I am 70, and should have a fossilized brain, I have just learned Spanish as my sixth language, fluid knowledge of a language is obtained by reading litterature and that is how it worked for me.


good news: lay down more plastic connections. "learn" fast bad news : never forget anything.

good news: recover from trauma bad news: " what trauma?"

yet another trinket spilling from Pandoa's Box?

Walt Stawicki

Jochair, at what age were you when you began learning another language? It is known that with each one learns the next becomes easier. If you first did this at a young age when your brain was plastic enough you gave yourself a lifetime skill that wouldn't diminish much with age. At 65 I tried for the first time to acquire another language without immersion and found it pretty near impossible. My IQ is embarrassingly high so that has little to do with it.

This could be all the more revolutionary because if it's usable it will restore plasticity (which I am certain is linked to creativity) when one has a full arsenal of amassed experience. The flood of new thought that all that experience could bring to a newly plasticized brain might be too much to bear. The naturally decreasing plasticity might even prove to be a regulatory mechanism to keep us from the overload of cognitive hyperactivity (which could be madness.)


WE have found that adding organic sulfur a crystal food to the diets of young and old enables the use of the right brain. The Blood Brain Barrier and the Noble work of Rudy Tanzi who discovered trash i.e. amyloid plaque in the brain is the cause of Alzheimer's 1992. He was partially correct, the lack of sulfur in our diets allowed the mercury, aluminum, lead, plutonium and long list of negative biological heavy metals just build up, no sulfur to sulfate out the trash. Organic sulfur clears the blood brain barrier, no matter how old you are, and it make girls beautiful no matter their age. We study human who can tell us whether they remember who they are. We are what we eat. Got sulfur? is the Cellular Matrix Study

Patrick McGean

So long as making the brain young retains all the information. Youth is wasted on the young.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a brain with 40 years of living in a 20 year old body?

Gregg Eshelman

Potential benefits learning new things rapidly

Downside, never having any strong opinions or experiences that shape personality.

David Lewis

Actually adults learn languages faster than children. Most translators learnt all their languages as adults. It can take a child 6 - 12 years to reach conversational level in a language, something an adult can do in months (if the adult wants to).

If an adults brain was more flexible, as flexible as a childs, then a sudden shock could have unwanted consequences. The reason we make films 18 for example, our brains are less flexible, 18 films could become illegal?


@Gregg Eshelman

I think I would settle for being 20 again


It is Simple You turn on the gene you recover from injury/old age and maybe regain Creativity you turn off the gene then you regain balance and maturity over years just cycle it as needed no big deal.

Joseph Mertens

Patrick. In response to your comment on HIV vaccine I purchased some organic sulfur and have found that you are right on the money. Multiple positive effects. Including, relative to this article a better mental acuity and drive at work. This is particularly positive for me as I have just transitioned to a new position that requires new skills. I'm pushing 63, so this old dog is learning new tricks. My Dad died of Alz. 3 years ago so I'm painfully aware of the tragedy of that disease. He was brillant, a Phd grad of Columbia University, a collegue of Wally Broecker at Lamont Observatory and instrumental in the development of Potassium Argon dating. It was sad to see his detrioration. I wish I had known about OS 10 years ago.


This finding could have tremendous implications for overcoming addictive behavior, which is essentially learned behavior. Many addicts now recover through the use of cognitive techniques, increasing neuroplasticity would greatly enhance the chances for positive outcomes.

Pete Soderman

Let's see,brain maturation v's adolecent risk taking behaviour... are we ready for a bunch of 60yo teenagers on our roads???


The big deal is that by the end of your teenage years you have the structure that has been developed as you grow. That growing process stops just at the right time before you start to make connections between areas of the brain that you just don't want.

For instance, what if you made a connection between your consciousness and sub-consciousness bringing all that busy work into conscious thought. It is not something you want and it is very difficult to get rid of once you have it. Another problem would be to start seeing sound or hearing colour. What if you shortcircut the construct of the world as it is presented to you ahead of time so that you only start to see things in real time. Your ability to avoid objects and catch a moving object would be impaired.

It's great work and it will help some people who need it but to use this on a healthy person would be a totally unknown risk. You have no idea what the result will be for you. Everyone is different and no amount of trials will ever be enough to ensure that the process is going to be ok for everyone.

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