Astrocytes play a key role in the protection and maintenance of the brain. Neuronal glutathione levels (GSH) are rapidly depleted during oxidative stress, and its re-synthesis is dependent on astrocyte GSH production. These physiological functions requires that astrocytes be capable of rapidly increasing their metabolic activity. During aging, little is known about the cumulative effects of oxidative damage on astrocytes. Degradation of their supportive and neuroprotective functions is likely to contribute to the aging process. Evidence is presented showing that astrocyte neuroprotection is diminished with age. It is also demonstrated that astrocyte resistance to oxidative stress and neuroprotection can be enhanced by activation of a purinergic receptor (P2Y-R) signaling pathway in cultured astrocytes as well as in whole animal models. This enhanced protection pathway appears to be dependent on increased mitochondrial function in astrocytes. The long-term goal of this proposal is to understand the role of astrocytes in the maintenance and protection of the brain during aging. The overall hypothesis is that neuroprotection can be enhanced by increasing mitochondrial metabolism in astrocytes at anytime during the aging process. The following Specific Aims are proposed to test this hypothesis. 1) To determine the mechanism by which purinergic receptor (P2Y-R) activation in astrocytes increases neuroprotection in the living mouse cortex throughout aging. 2) To define the impact of mitochondrial ROS damage on P2Y-R mediated astrocyte neuroprotection during the aging process in vivo. 3) To non-invasively delineate the receptor dependence of Ca2+ stimulated mitochondrial metabolism in astrocytes for in vivo neuroprotection during aging. Young, middle-aged and old mice as well from animal models with dysfunctional mitochondria and altered antioxidant enzyme activity will be used to carry out these aims. Single and mutliphoton microscopy will be used to image changes in mitochondrial and cellular function in vivo. Small animal fluorescent imaging will be used to monitor the progression of focal cerebral infarcts (strokes) in living mice brains. These studies are important to understand the underlying mechanisms of aging in humans. The identification and characterization of a novel protective pathway in the brain, which can be activated throughout the aging process, will also serve as an attractive therapeutic target to address many neuropathological processes.Accumulation of oxidative damage to astrocytes is likely to degrade their supportive and neuroprotective functions and significantly contribute to the aging process. Data collected from this research will help to identify and characterize novel protective pathways in astrocytes that can be activated to protect the brain during aging. These pathways should also serve as an attractive therapeutic targets to address many neuropathological processes, including stroke and dementias.
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