. Dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the major neuroendocrine system regulating physiological responses to stress, is a common feature of older individuals with memory loss, including those with Alzheimer?s disease. Indeed, accumulating effects of stress and glucocorticoid exposure across the lifespan are presumed to contribute to age-related memory loss and enhance susceptibility to Alzheimer?s disease via deleterious signaling alterations in glucocorticoid receptor-expressing neurons residing in the medial temporal and frontal lobes that support normal memory. Neural activity in the hippocampus, which supports declarative memory, or the prefrontal cortex, a region that is indispensable for working memory, requires a fine balance between persistent excitation of glutamatergic, pyramidal neurons and competitive inhibition provided by GABAergic interneurons. Recently published and preliminary findings from our laboratory indicate that memory loss observed in aging or following chronic stress is mechanistically linked to altered signaling via ionotropic NMDA receptors and metabotropic GABAB receptors in these brain regions. These similarities suggest a common mechanism contributes to memory loss in chronic stress and aging and, by extension, stress may interact with aging to increase severity of memory loss and susceptibility to age-related neurodegenerative disease. Our long-term goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms that translate stressful experiences into lasting changes in neural function that contribute to memory loss across the full lifespan and, in so doing, identify new targets that will lead to the development of therapeutics that protect or restore memory in older individuals. This project will use a rat model of age-related memory loss to test the hypotheses that 1) stress increases vulnerability to memory loss across the lifespan via DNA methylation that durably modifies transcriptional activity of genes that encode for synaptic proteins and 2) that stress-dependent molecular changes in the aged brain require signaling transduced by glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptors. Such findings would be significant because they will identify specific molecular bases that transform experiential and physiological factors into impaired synaptic function and memory loss in later life and also establish a critical foundation for developing new therapeutic approaches to both prevent and reverse age- related memory loss. This proposal builds on the applicant?s long-standing scientific commitment to investigate the neural basis for cognitive decline in aging and Alzheimer?s disease. Productive collaborations initiated in a prior F32 award will be advanced and combined with new mentorship, affording significant technical and conceptual training in cutting-edge molecular approaches and bioinformatics. The scientific knowledge, technical competence, professional skills and original data cultivated under this K01 award will directly support the applicant?s transition to an independent scientific career as a PI leading his own NIH-funded research program.

Public Health Relevance

. Census data predict that the numbers of Americans over the age of 65 will reach 84 million by 2050, so the determining the cause of age-related cognitive decline is a matter of pressing scientific, clinical and social concern. This research project will examine how chronic stress affects DNA structure and gene expression in the brain and influences memory throughout the lifespan. Findings from this study will improve our knowledge of the mechanisms that contribute to cognitive decline in aging and lead to new strategies that can prevent or reverse such impairments.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Neuroscience of Aging Review Committee (NIA)
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Wagster, Molly V
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University of South Carolina at Columbia
Schools of Medicine
United States
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