Hypothalamic Protein Called Menin May Play Key Role in Aging


Researchers were able to speed up and slow down aging in mice by reducing or increasing menin, which could prove promising for treating cognitive decline. Photo: Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.


Scientists are always learning new things about the nature of aging, at the cellular level, and new research from Xiamen University in China’s Fujian province is getting a lot of attention.

As reported here, scientists at the university have found that a hypothalamic protein called menin may play a key role in aging, and in fact may be a previously unknown driver of physiological aging.

The hypothalamus is a region deep in the brain, which co-ordinates of the autonomic nervous system and the activity of the pituitary, controlling body temperature, thirst, hunger and other systems responsible for maintaining stability (homeostasis).

To understand the research, I found this context in the article particularly helpful: “Aging is characterized by the progressive and overall deterioration of physiological functions, eventually leading to death. While the molecular mechanisms that drive the aging process and associated cognitive decline are not fully understood, the hypothalamus has been identified as a key mediator of physiological aging, through an increase in the process of neuroinflammatory signaling over time … In turn, this inflammation promotes multiple age-related processes, both in the brain and in the periphery.”

Here’s what the researchers discovered: “In vivo studies demonstrated that hypothalamic menin signaling diminished in aging mice, and correlated with systemic aging and cognition-related deficits. Further experiments showed that restoring menin expression in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMH) extended lifespan in aged mice, improved learning and memory, and was associated with reduced biomarkers aging. Conversely, inhibiting menin the VMH of middle-aged mice induced premature aging and speeded up cognitive decline.”

The article is long and fairly complex and describes the steps the researchers undertook to arrive at these findings. I’m reluctant to edit or paraphrase, so I urge you to read the article to get the details accurately.

Here’s the exciting bottom line: “To test whether reversing age-related menin loss could reverse signs of physiological aging the authors delivered the gene for menin into the hypothalamus of elderly (20-month-old) mice. Thirty days later, they found that treated animals had improved skin thickness and bone mass, along with better learning, cognition, and balance, and that this correlated with an increase in D-serine within the hippocampus, a central brain region important for learning and memory.”

What are implications going forward? As with all such findings, a lot more research is needed. But the researchers noted, “We speculate that the decline of menin expression in the hypothalamus with age may be one of the driving factors of aging, and menin may be the key protein connecting the genetic, inflammatory, and metabolic factors of aging.”

Yet one more front in the campaign to promote longevity for us to keep a close eye on!

David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.



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