Mission To determine the mechanisms of action of nutrients and bioactive compounds in improving brain function during aging. Our experiments address this goal in biological systems of increasing complexity, from stem cells in culture to aged human subjects. This translational approach allows the exploration and expansion of the effects of nutritional compounds from altering basic cellular signaling and energy regulation to improving human cognition, mood, sensory and motor ability. Importantly, this information can then be utilized to demonstrate that particular nutritional interventions may increase “health span” in aging, and provide a “longevity dividend” for slowing the aging process. With the potential to slow down or reverse aging of the brain and the body using both genetic and growth condition-based cell culture and in vivo technological models, we will focus on the application of foods and diet, in particular nutrients and bioactive compounds, to create growth conditions in neural cells that reverse the pathology associated with normal or pathologic aging and cognitive decline based on what are now becoming basic doctrines of cellular and tissue plasticity. Included are the applications of new methodologies for: better defining neural aging and facilitating earlier, more reliable and overall better diagnosis of age-related neurological disease; utilizing potential pre-clinical disease information gained from characterizing and phenotyping the molecular genetics of at risk cells; and using diet and phytochemicals to manipulate networks of genes involved in healthy aging, neurological disease prevention and treatment.
Objectives • Characterize the effects of genetic, metabolic, and environmental influences on the aging brain and vasculature, and the modifying impact of nutrition on neuronal and glial function that can lead to better cognitive and behavioral outcomes throughout life.
• Characterize genetic, molecular, cellular, and physiological mechanisms by which food and nutritional factors affect the central nervous system regulation of aging processes and energy homeostasis
Team Members Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D.
Research Psychologist, USDA, ARS
Research focus: Age-related behavioral (cognition and motor performance) and neurochemical changes and nutritional treatments
Tong Zheng, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Characterization of neural stem cells that may be appropriate as therapeutic sources as well as in vivo and in vitro bioassays to test the role of nutritional supplements in maintaining brain health and preventing age-related neurological diseases.
Donna Bielinski, Ph.D., Research Assistant Yuilyn Chang Chusan, Staff Assistant
Derek Fisher, B.S., Biologist, USDA, ARS Kathy Li, Research Administrator Grant Rutledge, Ph.D., Research Psychologist, USDA, ARS