Proteins in umbilical cord plasma improve brain function in mice

19 April 2017

Nature: Human umbilical cord plasma proteins revitalize hippocampal function in aged mice

Researchers in the US have identified a protein in umbilical cord blood plasma that may help promote cognitive activity in older mice. The study is published today (Wednesday 19 April) in the journal Nature.

The research, led by a team at Stanford University, builds on earlier research which showed that blood from young mice could help cognition in older mice. The researchers set out to investigate if human blood plasma could have an effect on ageing in mice. They used three groups of older mice, one group was injected with blood plasma from older adults, another with plasma from younger adults, and the other with umbilical cord plasma. The brains of mice treated with umbilical cord plasma were found to have stronger connections between nerve cells in the hippocampus– an area of the brain responsible for aspects of memory.

A series of further experiments allowed the researchers to identify a protein known as tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 2 (TIMP2). TIMP2 is found at high levels in umbilical cord plasma and a decline in TIMP2 in the brain is linked to ageing in mice. The researchers gave older mice injections of TIMP2 over a two-week period, and found the mice performed better on tests of learning and memory and were more likely make nests – a behaviour more common in younger mice. They also found that umbilical cord plasma did not have the same benefits on brain function when TIMP2 was removed, suggesting the protein was key to its beneficial effects

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“This study has zeroed in on a protein found in umbilical cord plasma that could play a role in keeping the brain healthy into older age. Although the treatments tested here boosted some aspects of learning and memory in mice, we don’t know how relevant the findings might be to people. This research, while interesting, only looked at memory and thinking changes caused by ageing, and not those involved in dementia.

“Dementia is caused by physical diseases and while it is not an inevitable part of ageing, age is an important risk factor for the condition. Further studies will now need to reproduce these results as well as investigating how the protein might influence brain activity and whether it could hold potential for supporting healthy ageing in people.”