Minds of their own

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for: Running errands? Watching sports? Other conditioned behavior?

Or maybe broadening our cognitive ability with Dr. Michael Levin’s follow-ups to his 2021 Basal cognition paper and 2020 Electroceuticals presentation with a 2022 paper and presentation starting around the 13:30 mark:

Michael Levin - Cell Intelligence in Physiological and Morphological Spaces

“A homeostatic feedback is usually thought of as a single variable such as temperature or pH. The set point has been found to be a large-scale geometry, a descriptor of a complex data structure.”

His 2022 paper Technological Approach to Mind Everywhere: An Experimentally-Grounded Framework for Understanding Diverse Bodies and Minds:

“It is proposed that the traditional problem-solving behavior we see in standard animals in 3D space is just a variant of evolutionarily more ancient capacity to solve problems in metabolic, physiological, transcriptional, and morphogenetic spaces (as one possible sequential timeline along which evolution pivoted some of the same strategies to solve problems in new spaces).

Developmental bioelectricity works alongside other modalities such as gene-regulatory networks, biomechanics, and biochemical systems. Developmental bioelectricity provides a bridge between the early problem-solving of body anatomy and the more recent complexity of behavioral sophistication via brains.

This unification of two disciplines suggests a number of hypotheses about the evolutionary path that pivoted morphogenetic control mechanisms into cognitive capacities of behavior, and sheds light on how Selves arise and expand.

While being very careful with powerful advances, it must also be kept in mind that existing balance was not achieved by optimizing happiness or any other quality commensurate with modern values. It is the result of dynamical systems properties shaped by meanderings of the evolutionary process and the harsh process of selection for survival capacity.”


Epigenetic effects of plasma concentrate

“We use data from a safety study (n = 18, mean age 74) to investigate whether human umbilical cord plasma concentrate (hereinafter Plasma Concentrate) injected weekly (1 ml intramuscular) into elderly human subjects over a 10-week period affects different biomarkers, including epigenetic age measures, standard clinical biomarkers of organ dysfunction, mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNA-CN), and leukocyte telomere length.

More than 20 clinical biomarkers were significantly and beneficially altered. Telomere length and mtDNA-CN were not significantly affected by treatment.

An increase in entropy means that the methylome becomes noisier. We found that entropy was significantly decreased after treatment. Decreased entropy may implicate rejuvenation of the epigenetic landscape after plasma concentrate treatments.

changes in methylation entropy

Treatment reduced DNA methylation-based GrimAge by an average of 0.82 years, suggesting a reduction in morbidity and mortality risk. By contrast, no significant results could be observed for epigenetic clocks that estimate chronological age.

Our study lends credence to the notion that there are youth-promoting factors in the secretome of umbilical cord plasma. This conclusion has also been reached by other researchers that have provided treatment with stem cells, which do not work by plasma dilution but primarily by providing humoral factors and changing the microenvironment of cells and tissues. While there may be youth-promoting microvesicles or humoral factors that are at work, we do not want to rule out the possibility that it is ‘young and undamaged’ albumin that leads to the improvements noted, especially in light of recent evidence for such a mechanism.

This first human epigenetic clock study of plasma concentrate treatments revealed age-reversal effects according to a well-established DNA methylation-based estimator of morbidity and mortality risk. Future placebo-controlled replication studies are warranted with a larger number of participants over a longer study period, which our laboratory has undertaken to pursue.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acel.13696 “Umbilical cord plasma concentrate has beneficial effects on DNA methylation GrimAge and human clinical biomarkers”


Glucoraphanin is not sulforaphane

A poorly-conceived and intentionally-misrepresented human 2022 broccoli product study:

“We investigated whether a sulforaphane (SFN) [actually, sulforaphane precursor glucoraphanin] intake intervention improved cognitive performance and mood states in healthy older adults in a 12-week, double-blinded, randomized controlled trial.

The SFN group showed improvement in processing speed and a decrease in negative mood compared to the placebo group. However, there were no significant results in other biomarkers of oxidant stress, inflammation, or neural plasticity.

These results indicate that nutrition interventions using SFN can have positive effects on cognitive functioning and mood in healthy older adults.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2022.929628/full “Effects of sulforaphane intake on processing speed and negative moods in healthy older adults: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial”

Contrary to this study’s title, actual sulforaphane intake was not measured. The glucoraphanin product used in this study was the same item and daily dose as Eat broccoli sprouts for your workouts, which investigated effects with 19-to-23-year-old men. The treatment was taken all at once at an unspecified time of day rather than three times a day with young subjects.

These researchers knew from the 2012 study cited for dose that:

“Individual conversions of glucosinolates [like glucoraphanin] to isothiocyanates [like sulforaphane] varied enormously, from about 1% to more than 40% of dose. In contrast, administration of isothiocyanates (largely sulforaphane)-containing broccoli sprout extracts, resulted in uniformly high (70-90%) conversions to urinary dithiocarbamates.”

Young or old, a daily 30 mg glucoraphanin intake isn’t sufficient to fully activate human Nrf2 signaling pathways. A daily 17 mg sulforaphane intake could accomplish that.


Don’t bother eating broccoli sprouts if you’re old?

I try to not curate research that wastes resources. Couldn’t help but present this 2022 rodent study:

“We aimed to evaluate if sulforaphane (SFN) long-term treatment was able to prevent age-associated cognitive decline in adult (15-month-old) and old (21-month-old) female and male rats.

Our results showed that SFN restored redox homeostasis in brain cortex and hippocampus of adult rats, preventing cognitive decline in both sexes. However, redox responses were not the same in males and females.

Old rats were not able to recover their redox state as adults did, but they had a mild improvement. These results suggest that SFN mainly prevents rather than reverts neural damage; though, there might also be a range of opportunities to use hormetins like SFN, to improve redox modulation in old animals.”

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10522-022-09984-9 “Long-term sulforaphane-treatment restores redox homeostasis and prevents cognitive decline in middleaged female and male rats, but cannot revert previous damage in old animals” (not freely available)

These researchers cited Sulforaphane in the Goldilocks zone for hormetic effects of sulforaphane, so I asked:

“Did you develop any preliminary dose/response data for stating ‘there might also be a range of opportunities to use hormetins like SFN to improve redox modulation in old animals’?”

They cited Broccoli sprouts activate the AMPK pathway for long-term effects of a small sulforaphane dose, so I asked:

“Also, the three studies cited for ‘0.5 mg/Kg, i.e. 2.82 μmol/Kg BW for 3 months’ were all mouse studies. Since this was a rat study, wouldn’t there be increased dose and duration equivalencies?”

I’ll update this blog post in the event either of my questions to these researchers are answered.


Non-patentable boron benefits

To follow up Is boron important to health? I’ll highlight a 2022 review of boron intake:

“Boron is essential for activity of several metabolic enzymes, hormones, and micronutrients. It is important for growth and maintenance of bone, reduction in inflammatory biomarkers, and increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes.

The average person’s daily diet contains 1.5 to 3 milligrams of boron. Boron intakes of 1–3 mg/day have been shown to improve bone and brain health in adults when compared to intakes of 0.25–0.50 mg/day.

One week of 10 mg/d boron supplementation resulted in a 20% reduction in inflammatory biomarkers TNF-α, as well as significant reductions (nearly 50%) in plasma concentrations of hs-CRP and IL-6. Calcium fructoborate, a naturally occurring, plant-based boron-carbohydrate complex, had beneficial effects on osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms. A double-blind study in middle-aged patients with primary OA found that all groups except the placebo group saw a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers after 15 days of food supplementation with calcium fructoborate.

Dietary boron intake significantly improves brain function and cognitive functioning in humans. Electroencephalograms showed that boron pharmacological intervention after boron deficiency improved functioning in older men and women, such as less drowsiness and mental alertness, better psychomotor skills (for example, motor speed and dexterity), and better cognitive processing (e.g., attention and short-term memory). Boron compounds can help with both impaired recognition and spatial memory problems.

We discussed the role of boron-based diet in memory, boron and microbiome relation, boron as anti-inflammatory agents, and boron in neurodegenerative diseases. Boron reagents will play a significant role to improve dysbiosis.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/11/3402/htm “The Role of Microbiome in Brain Development and Neurodegenerative Diseases”


If you lose mobility, you lose cognitive function

This 2022 human study used four epigenetic clocks to assess aging:

“This cohort study was a secondary analysis of 3 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) ancillary studies among 1813 women eligible to survive to age 90 years by end of study period. The study found that increased epigenetic age acceleration (EAA) as measured by 4 epigenetic clocks was associated with lower odds of survival to age 90 years with intact mobility; results were similar when including intact cognitive functioning.

This study benefited from a large, racially and ethnically diverse sample of women who were followed up to at least age 90 years with detailed longitudinal data on a host of lifestyle and health history factors. This study is generalizable to WHI women owing to use of IPW weights, and may be generalizable to a large range of women in the United States.


Among 1813 women, there were:

  • 464 women who survived to age 90 years with intact mobility and cognitive functioning;
  • 420 women who survived to age 90 years without intact mobility and cognitive functioning; and
  • 929 women who did not survive to age 90 years.

Only 29 women were reclassified from the healthy longevity group to surviving to age 90 years without intact mobility and cognitive functioning. Although it was of great interest to investigate the association between EAA and survival to age 90 years with intact cognitive function independently, this study population did not have sufficient numbers of women who experienced loss of cognitive function (without loss of mobility) to do so.”

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2794706 “Analysis of Epigenetic Age Acceleration and Healthy Longevity Among Older US Women”

Early humans who lost mobility in our African savanna ancestral environment during the Pleistocene Epoch (approximately 2.6M to 12K years ago) were prey. I highly doubt that immobile individuals successfully became our ancestors.

I downgraded this study because these researchers misguidedly soiled worthwhile findings with BMI and education level non-causal associations. They intentionally did this, as several of them were coauthors of the execrable Epigenome-wide meta-analysis of BMI in nine cohorts: examining the utility of epigenetic BMI in predicting metabolic health.

See Findings, or fun with numbers? and Does a societal mandate cause DNA methylation? for opposing research.


Broccoli sprouts and your brain

A 2022 review of Nrf2 signaling hilariously avoided mentioning sulforaphane, although of ~4,000 sulforaphane published articles, two were cited. I’ll curate it anyway to highlight referenced brain effects.

“A good stability of NRF2 activity is crucial to maintain redox balance and therefore brain homeostasis. In this review, we have gathered recent data about the contribution of the NRF2 pathway in the healthy brain as well as during metabolic diseases, ageing, and ageing-related neurodegenerative diseases.

A functional NRF2 system is important to regulate both neuroinflammation, i.e., activation of microglia and astrocytes, and oxidative stress in the brain. NRF2 and NF-κB transcription factors regulate cellular responses to inflammation and oxidative stress in order to maintain brain homeostasis. Both pathways have been described to inhibit each other.

Nrf2 brain aging

Future challenges will be to establish novel therapies to:

  • Increase NRF2 activation in specific cell types and/or brain regions; and
  • Modulate NRF2 pathway in senescent cells.

Modulation of NRF2 signalling pathway by using specific food products [like unmentioned broccoli sprouts] and phytochemicals [like unmentioned sulforaphane], dietary supplements [like unmentioned Vitamin D3], drugs, and epigenetic modifiers, alone or in combination, will help to limit inflammatory diseases, ageing process, and subsequently ageing-related diseases.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/11/8/1426/htm “Normal and Pathological NRF2 Signalling in the Central Nervous System”


Trained immunity epigenetics

Two papers on trained immunity, starting with a 2022 review:

“Live attenuated vaccines such as the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin, measles-containing vaccines, and the oral polio vaccine have been shown to reduce overall mortality beyond their effects attributable to the targeted diseases.

After an encounter with a primary stimulus, epigenetic and metabolic reprogramming of bone marrow progenitor cells and functional changes of tissue immune cell populations result in augmented immune responses against a secondary challenge. This process has been termed trained immunity.

Main epigenetic events during induction of trained immunity are:

  1. Chromosomal reorganization on the level of topologically associated domains;
  2. Induction of long noncoding RNA activity;
  3. Histone modifications and chromatin accessibility; and
  4. DNA (de)methylation.

trained immunity mechanisms

An epigenetic enzyme belonging to the lysine methyltransferase family, Set7, possesses vital function in β-glucan training of monocytes. When inhibited, trained immunity phenotype is diminished, while Set7 deficient mice cannot establish innate immune memory.

β-glucan is recognized by Dectin-1, and has been known to lead to a shift from oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) to glycolysis as an ATP source. However, a more recent study reported an increase in both glycolysis and oxygen consumption following training, which signals a higher rate of OXPHOS. This discrepancy is explained by the difference in concentration of β-glucan used in the experiments.

Stopping vaccination with measles and polio once the pathogens are eradicated, or replacing live attenuated polio with inactivated polio, should be done with caution, as it may have a substantial impact on childhood mortality. Trained immunity may also represent an important new approach to improve current vaccines, or to develop novel vaccines that combine induction of classical adaptive immune memory and innate immune memory.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952791522000371 “Trained immunity: implications for vaccination”

Reference 34 was a 2020 study by two of the same coauthors that provided details on the above discrepancy:

“Findings presented by the current study suggest that the disparity in terms of the role of OXPHOS arises from the stimulatory dose of β-glucan [by intraperitoneal injection]. A β-glucan concentration of 1 μg/mL induces both glycolysis and OXPHOS, whereas a concentration of 10 μg/mL induces glycolysis but inhibits OXPHOS.”

https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(20)30458-7 “The Set7 Lysine Methyltransferase Regulates Plasticity in Oxidative Phosphorylation Necessary for Trained Immunity Induced by β-Glucan”


The goddess of rainbows

Two 2022 papers, starting with a review of irisin:

“This article is an overview of irisin generation, secretion, and tissue distribution. Its targeting of tissues or organs for prevention and treatment of chronic diseases is systematically summarized, with discussion of underlying molecular mechanisms.

Irisin is an exercise-induced myokine expressed as a bioactive peptide in multiple tissues and organs. Exercise and cold exposure are major inducers for its secretion.

Mechanistic studies confirm that irisin is closely correlated with lipid metabolism, insulin resistance, inflammation, ROS, endocrine, neurotrophic factors, cell regeneration and repairing, and central nervous system regulation. Irisin decreases with age, and is closely associated with a wide range of aging-related diseases.

A number of studies in elderly humans and animal models have shown that exercise can promote the body’s circulation and increase irisin levels in some tissues and organs. Resistance, aerobic, or combined exercise seem to play a positive role. However, exercise could not change serum irisin in some reported studies.

irisin human studies

There are large individual differences in exercise training in the elderly population. Since the half-life of irisin in the body is less than 1 h, it is necessary to pay attention to the time of blood sampling after a single exercise intervention. Some factors that impede detection of irisin levels in vivo include the half-life of irisin protein, sampling time, different tissues, and different health statuses before and after intervention.

It is worth noting that high-intensity exercise shows higher irisin levels even with the same energy expenditure during exercise. Precision studies of irisin in elderly subjects following exercise intervention need to be further clarified.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163722001222 “Irisin, An Exercise-induced Bioactive Peptide Beneficial for Health Promotion During Aging Process” (not freely available) Thanks to Dr. Ning Chen for providing a copy.

A second paper was a human study too recent to be cited by the first paper. I’ll highlight its irisin findings:

“We investigated the complex relationship among DNAm based biomarkers of aging, including DNAmFitAge, a variety of physiological functioning variables, blood serum measures including cholesterol, irisin level, and redox balance, and the microbiome on 303 healthy individuals aged between 33 and 88 years with a diverse level of physical fitness. Regular exercise was associated with younger biological age, better memory, and more protective blood serum levels.

Our research intends to show that regular physical exercise is related to microbiota and methylation differences which are both beneficial to aging and measurable. Our research provides the first investigation between microbiome derived metabolic pathways and DNAm based aging biomarkers.

Irisin levels decrease with age (0.23 average decrease for every 1 year older). We found age-related decreases in irisin levels were attenuated by exercise training. The link between irisin to GrimAge Acceleration and FitAge Acceleration is a novel observation.

HDL is positively associated with irisin. HDL and irisin have complex roles in physiology, and the positive relationship we observe between physical exercise and HDL and irisin align with protective effects seen between HDL and irisin with glucose homeostasis.

This work further supports the biological importance of irisin to the aging process. It is possible our research motivates interventions to boost irisin, like through physical exercise, as possible anti-aging therapies.”

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.07.22.22277842v1 “DNA methylation clock DNAmFitAge shows regular exercise is associated with slower aging and systemic adaptation


Variable aging measurements

Two papers on aging measurements, starting with a 2022 human study:

“We collected longitudinally across the adult age range a comprehensive list of phenotypes within four domains (body composition, energetics, homeostatic mechanisms and neurodegeneration / neuroplasticity) and functional outcomes. We integrated individual deviations from population trajectories into a global longitudinal phenotypic metric of aging.

blsa participant ages

We demonstrate that accelerated longitudinal phenotypic aging is associated with faster physical and cognitive decline, faster accumulation of multimorbidity, and shorter survival.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43587-022-00243-7 “Longitudinal phenotypic aging metrics in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging”

I disagree with this study’s methodology.

1. Although it acknowledged individual variability, nothing was done to positively adjust to those facts. What could have been done per A review of biological variability was:

“Obtain a measurement of variability that is independent of the mean to ensure to not confound changes in variability with shifts in mean.”

2. A usual research practice is to take at least three measurements, and use their average as representative. That wasn’t done here, maybe because of time and expense considerations?

3. An important measurement for physical function was the time to finish a 400 meter walk. I walk more than ten times that almost every day. I use the first 400 meters as a warmup period while getting to the beach to walk eastward and enjoy the predawn light and water animal activity. I concentrate on gait speed during the last third while walking westward on a straightaway bike path.

This study would measure my gait speed as a sometimes old person during the first 400 meters, rather than a gait speed that usually approaches a young person’s during the last 400 meters. Even if I tried to walk my fastest right out of the gate, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a decade or two difference by this study’s measurements between a morning walk’s first and last 400 meter gait speeds.

4. An important cognitive function measurement was the Digital Symbol Substitution Test, apparently taken during subjects’ fasted state? Sometimes after exercising, I’m okay cognitively when starting work in a fasted state at 6:30 a.m., and other times I’m tired.

Two days ago during the last hour of work 1:30-2:30 p.m., I did outstanding work, four hours after eating whole oats for breakfast, and after drinking two coffees and three teas. I took time to put together pieces of puzzles into proper contexts for management’s attention. My bosses weren’t too pleased with the story it told, but it is what it is.

5. Are measurements of how you start what matters? Or is it how you finish, as is common in competitive sports?

This study would measure my cognitive function as a sometimes old person, rather than performance that approaches a young person’s later in the workday. For both physical and cognitive function, my abilities to ramp up and come close to young people’s capabilities are features that I work on, not random, inconvenient measurement variability.

6. Blood measurements were downgraded as having “limited coverage of the four phenotypic domains.” These were taken to fit into specific paradigms and epigenetic clocks. They predictably failed to show causality, as acknowledged with:

“Our analysis showed strong associations between global longitudinal phenotypic score and changes in physical and cognitive function. We did not have sufficient observations to fully separate these two dimensions over time, which would have strengthened the assumption of causality.”

Nowhere in this study was it hinted that all measurements were downstream effects of unmeasured causes. A follow-on study could reanalyze these subjects’ blood samples, MRI, and other measurements for originating upstream factors of signaling pathways and cascades per Signaling pathways and aging and An environmental signaling paradigm of aging.

Reference 35 of this first study was a 2021 human and rodent study that was tossed in as a limitation with:

“We might not have all of the relevant phenotypic measures (for example, more detailed immune profiles) for all participants.”

Its findings included:

“From the blood immunome of 1,001 individuals aged 8–96 years, we developed a deep-learning method based on patterns of systemic age-related inflammation. The resulting inflammatory clock of aging (iAge) tracked with multimorbidity, immunosenescence, frailty and cardiovascular aging, and is also associated with exceptional longevity in centenarians.

Canonical markers of acute infection such as IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α were not major contributors to iAge, indicating that, except for IL-1β, infection-driven inflammatory markers of the acute inflammatory response do not contribute to age-related chronic inflammation.

We conducted a follow-up study in an independent cohort of 97 extremely healthy adults (aged 25–90 years) matched for cardiovascular risk factors (including conserved levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein), selected from a total of 151 recruited participants using strict selection criteria. In this healthy cohort, inflammation markers were measured using a 48-plex cytokine panel. Only 6 circulating immune proteins were significantly correlated with age, with CXCL9 again the largest contributor to age-related inflammation.

CXCL9 is a T-cell chemoattractant induced by IFN-γ and is mostly produced by neutrophils, macrophages and endothelial cells (ECs). We find that CXCL9 is mainly produced by aged endothelium and predicts subclinical levels of cardiovascular aging in nominally healthy individuals.

We did not find any significant correlation between known disease risk factors reported in the study (BMI, smoking, dyslipidemia) and levels of CXCL9 gene or protein expression. We hypothesize that one root cause of CXCL9 overproduction is cellular aging per se, which can trigger metabolic dysfunction.

As ECs but not cardiomyocytes expressed the CXCL9 receptor, CXCR3, we hypothesize that this chemokine acts both in a paracrine fashion (when it is produced by macrophages to attract T cells to the site of injury) and in an autocrine fashion (when it is produced by the endothelium) creating a positive feedback loop. In this model, increasing doses of CXCL9 and expression of its receptor in these cells leads to cumulative deterioration of endothelial function in aging.

IFN-γ did not increase in expression in our cellular aging RNA-seq experiment, suggesting that there are triggers of CXCL9 (other than IFN-γ) that play a role in cellular senescence in the endothelium that are currently unknown. However, in our 1KIP study, IFN-γ was in fact the second-most important negative contributor to iAge, which could be explained by the cell-priming effect of cytokines, where the effect of a first cytokine alters the response to a different one.

iAge derived from immunological cytokines gives us an insight into the salient cytokines that are related to aging and disease. A notable difference compared to other clocks is that iAge is clearly actionable as shown by our experiments in CXCL9 where we can reverse aging phenotypes. More practical approaches range from altering a person’s exposomes (lifestyle) and/or the use of interventions to target CXCL9 and other biomarkers described here.

Our immune metric for human health can identify within healthy older adults with no clinical or laboratory evidence of cardiovascular disease, those at risk for early cardiovascular aging. We demonstrate that CXCL9 is a master regulator of vascular function and cellular senescence, which indicates that therapies targeting CXCL9 could be used to prevent age-related deterioration of the vascular system and other physiological systems as well.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43587-021-00082-y “An inflammatory aging clock (iAge) based on deep learning tracks multimorbidity, immunosenescence, frailty and cardiovascular aging”


Non-CpG methylation

Three 2022 papers on methylation epigenetic modifiers, starting with a human study focused on mitochondrial DNA non-CpG methylation involving nucleobases other than guanine (arginine, cytosine, or thymine):

“We collected brain tissue in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex from deceased individuals without (n = 39) and with (n = 14) drug use, and used whole-genome bisulfite sequencing to cover cytosine sites in the mitochondrial genome. Epigenetic clocks in illicit drug users, especially in ketamine users, were accelerated in both brain regions by comparison with nonusers.

Unlike the predominance of CpG over non-CpG methylation in the nuclear genome, the average CpG and non-CpG methylation levels in the mitochondrial genome were almost equal. The utility of non-CpG methylation was further illustrated by the three indices constructed in this study with non-CpG sites having better distinction between brain areas, age groups, and the presence or absence of drug use than indices consisting of CpG sites only. Results of previous studies on the mitochondrial genome that were solely based on CpG sites should be interpreted cautiously.

The epigenetic clock made up of age-related cytosine sites in mtDNA of the control group was consistently replicated in these two brain regions. One possibility for the correlation is the cycle theory that involves mitochondrial activity, mitochondrial DNA methylation, and alpha-ketoglutarate.

As mitochondrial activity fades with aging, mitochondria gradually lose the ability to eliminate methylation on cytosines through alpha-ketoglutarate. Further investigation of the underlying mechanisms is warranted.

To our knowledge, this is the first report that ketamine might change the mitochondrial epigenetic clock in human brain tissues. We believe this is the first report to elucidate comprehensively the importance of mitochondrial DNA methylation in human brain.”

https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-022-01300-z “Mitochondrial DNA methylation profiling of the human prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens: correlations with aging and drug use”

A second rodent study focused on RNA methylation:

“We investigated the role of RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) in improved resilience against chronic restraint stress. A combination of molecular, behavioral, and in vivo recording data demonstrates exercise-mediated restoration of m6A in the mouse medial prefrontal cortex, whose activity is potentiated to exert anxiolytic effects. To provide molecular explanations, it is worth noting that epigenetic regulation, such as histone modification, microRNA, and DNA methylation all participate in mental and cognitive rehabilitation following exercise.

To generalize these rodent data to humans, we recruited a small group of patients with major depressive disorder with prominent anxiety disorders. Compared to age- and sex-matched healthy individuals, patients displayed decreased circulating methyl donor S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) levels. Serum SAM levels were found to be inversely correlated with the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, suggesting the potential value of SAM as a biomarker for depression or anxiety disorders.

Hepatic biosynthesis of methyl donors is necessary for exercise to improve brain RNA m6A to counteract environmental stress. The dependence on hepatic-brain axis suggests the ineffectiveness of exercise training on people with hepatic dysfunctions.

This novel liver-brain axis provides an explanation for brain network changes upon exercise training, and provides new insights into diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. Exercise-induced anxiolysis might be potentiated by further replenishment of RNA methylation donors, providing a strategy of exercise plus diet supplement in preventing anxiety disorders.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/advs.202105731 “Physical Exercise Prevented Stress-Induced Anxiety via Improving Brain RNA Methylation”

A third paper was a review of mitochondrial-to-nuclear epigenetic regulation. I’ll highlight one mitochondrial metabolite, alpha-ketoglutarate (α-KG):

“Apart from established roles in bioenergetics and biosynthesis, mitochondria are signaling organelles that communicate their fitness to the nucleus, triggering transcriptional programs to adapt homeostasis stress that is essential for organismal health and aging. Emerging studies revealed that mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication via altered levels of mitochondrial metabolites or stress signals causes various epigenetic changes, facilitating efforts to maintain homeostasis and affect aging.

Metabolites generated by the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the electron transport chain (ETC), or one-carbon cycle within mitochondria can act as substrates or cofactors to control epigenetic modification, especially histone acetylation and methylation and DNA methylation. α-KG produced in the TCA cycle serves as an essential cofactor for the chromatin-modifying Jumonji C (JmjC) domain-containing lysine demethylases (JMJDs) and ten-eleven translocation (TETs) DNA demethylases. Changes in α-KG levels are capable of driving nuclear gene expression by affecting DNA and histone methylation profiles.


α-KG deficiency in progenitor stem cells increases with age. For example, the level of α-KG is reduced in follicle fluids of aged humans, and supplementation with α-KG preserves ovarian function in mice.

α-KG extends lifespan in Drosophila by activating AMPK signaling and inhibiting the mTOR pathway. Supplementing α-KG in the form of a calcium salt promoted a longer and healthier life associated with decreased levels of inflammatory cytokines in old mice.

A human study showed a nearly 8-year reversal in DNA methylation clock biological ages of 42 individuals taking an α-KG based formulation for 4–10 months. α-KG supplementation leads to both demethylation and hypermethylation of some CpG sites in the genome, suggesting that α-KG may have a broader effect on methylation-based aging, such as metabolic functions.

Outstanding questions:

  1. How is production of mitochondrial metabolites regulated both spatially and temporally to elicit epigenetic changes in response to mitochondrial dysfunction?
  2. What are specific epigenetic factors involved in mitochondrial-to-nuclear communications, and how do they cooperate with transcription factors in response to various external and internal stimuli?
  3. Do various mitochondrial metabolites act alone or in concert on the epigenome to regulate the aging process?
  4. Are some organs or tissues more at risk than others in maintaining mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication during aging?
  5. Can intervention of mitochondrial-to-nuclear communications mimic beneficial epigenetic changes to delay aging or alleviate age-onset diseases?”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0968000422000676 “Mitochondrial-to-nuclear communication in aging: an epigenetic perspective”


Gut microbiota therapy

This June 2022 review cited twenty 2022 papers for relationships between Parkinson’s disease and gut microbiota:

“Clinical diagnosis of PD is based on typical motor symptoms, and novel diagnostic biomarkers have been developed such as imaging markers, and α-synuclein fluid and tissue markers. Multimorbidity of non-motor disorders heighten the risk of adverse outcomes for patients with PD, which usually appear 20 years before onset of motor symptoms.

The gut microbiota is intimately connected to occurrence, development, and progression of PD, especially in early stages. A better understanding of the microbiota–gut–brain axis in PD can provide an opportunity to monitor an individual’s health by manipulating gut microbiota composition.

Several approaches like administration of probiotics, psychobiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, postbiotics, FMT, and dietary modifications have been tried to mitigate dysbiosis-induced ill effects and alleviate PD progression.


Epidemiological studies have reported that diet affects (positively or negatively) onset of neurodegenerative disorders. Evidence suggests that diet composition’s effects on brain health is not due to diet-induced inflammatory response, but because of its effects on the gut microbiome.

Dysbiotic gut microbiota (including altered microbial metabolites) may play crucial roles in PD via various mechanisms, such as:

  • Increased intestinal permeability;
  • Aggravated intestinal inflammation and neuroinflammation;
  • Abnormal aggregation of α-synuclein fibrils;
  • Imbalanced oxidative stress; and
  • Decreased neurotransmitters production.

Future studies are essential to further elucidate cause-effect relationships between gut microbiota and PD, improved PD therapeutic and diagnostic options, disease progression tracking, and patient stratification capabilities to deliver personalized treatment and optimize clinical trial designs.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2022.937555/full “Gut Microbiota: A Novel Therapeutic Target for Parkinson’s Disease”


Taurine week #7: Brain

Finishing a week’s worth of 2022 taurine research with two reviews of taurine’s brain effects:

“We provide a overview of brain taurine homeostasis, and review mechanisms by which taurine can afford neuroprotection in individuals with obesity and diabetes. Alterations to taurine homeostasis can impact a number of biological processes such as osmolarity control, calcium homeostasis, and inhibitory neurotransmission, and have been reported in both metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders.

Models of neurodegenerative disorders show reduced brain taurine concentrations. On the other hand, models of insulin-dependent diabetes, insulin resistance, and diet-induced obesity display taurine accumulation in the hippocampus. Given cytoprotective actions of taurine, such accumulation of taurine might constitute a compensatory mechanism that attempts to prevent neurodegeneration.


Taurine release is mainly mediated by volume-regulated anion channels (VRAC) that are activated by hypo-osmotic conditions and electrical activity. They can be stimulated via glutamate metabotropic (mGluR) and ionotropic receptors (mainly NMDA and AMPA), adenosine A1 receptors (A1R), and metabotropic ATP receptors (P2Y).

Taurine mediates its neuromodulatory effects by binding to GABAA, GABAB, and glycine receptors. While taurine binding to GABAA and GABAB is weaker than to GABA, taurine is a rather potent ligand of the glycine receptor. Reuptake of taurine occurs via taurine transporter TauT.

Cytoprotective actions of taurine contribute to brain health improvements in subjects with obesity and diabetes through various mechanisms that improve neuronal function, such as:

  • Modulating inhibitory neurotransmission, which promotes an excitatory–inhibitory balance;
  • Stimulating antioxidant systems; and
  • Stabilizing mitochondria energy production and Ca2+ homeostasis.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/6/1292/htm “Taurine Supplementation as a Neuroprotective Strategy upon Brain Dysfunction in Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes”

A second review focused on taurine’s secondary bile acids produced by gut microbiota:

“Most neurodegenerative disorders are diseases of protein homeostasis, with misfolded aggregates accumulating. The neurodegenerative process is mediated by numerous metabolic pathways, most of which lead to apoptosis. Hydrophilic bile acids, particularly tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), have shown important anti-apoptotic and neuroprotective activities, with numerous experimental and clinical evidence suggesting their possible therapeutic use as disease-modifiers in neurodegenerative diseases.

Biliary acids may influence each of the following three mechanisms through which interactions within the brain-gut-microbiota axis take place: neurological, immunological, and neuroendocrine. These microbial metabolites can act as direct neurotransmitters or neuromodulators, serving as key modulators of the brain-gut interactions.

The gut microbial community, through their capacity to produce bile acid metabolites distinct from the liver, can be thought of as an endocrine organ with potential to alter host physiology, perhaps to their own favour. Hydrophilic bile acids, currently regarded as important hormones, exert modulatory effects on gut microbiota composition to produce secondary bile acids which seem to bind a number of receptors with a higher affinity than primary biliary acids, expressed on many different cells.


TUDCA regulates expression of genes involved in cell cycle regulation and apoptotic pathways, promoting neuronal survival. TUDCA:

  • Improves protein folding capacity through its chaperoning activity, in turn reducing protein aggregation and deposition;
  • Reduces reactive oxygen species production, leading to protection against mitochondrial dysfunction;
  • Ameliorates endoplasmic reticulum stress; and
  • Inhibits expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, exerting an anti-neuroinflammatory effect.

Although Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and cerebral ischemia have different disease progressions, they share similar pathways which can be targeted by TUDCA. This makes this bile acid a potentially strong therapeutic option to be tested in human diseases. Clinical evidence collected so far has reported comprehensive data on ALS only.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9166453/ “Tauroursodeoxycholic acid: a potential therapeutic tool in neurodegenerative diseases”

The oligosaccharide stachyose

Two 2022 stachyose papers to follow on to Don’t take Beano if you’re stressed, which studied raffinose. Stachyose is in the raffinose oligosaccharide group with similar characteristics, and its content is usually larger in legumes. First is a rodent study:

“Stress can activate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and elevate glucocorticoids in the body (cortisol in humans and corticosterone in rodents). Glucocorticoid receptors are abundant in the hippocampus, and play an important role in stress-induced cognition alteration.

Corticosterone is often used to model cognitive impairment induced by stress. Long-term potentiation (LTP) deficit and cognitive impairment always coexist in stress models, and LTP impairment is often considered as one mechanism for stress-induced cognitive deficits.

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors play critical roles both in normal synaptic functions and excitotoxicity in the central nervous system. D-serine, a coactivator of NMDA receptors, plays an important role in brain function.

In this study, we focused on effects of stachyose, on LTP impairment by corticosterone, gut flora, and the D-serine pathway.


Data in this study showed that 7-consecutive-day intragastric (i.g.) administration of stachyose had protective effect. There was little effect via intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) and intraperitoneal (i.p.) administration.

To disturb gut flora, a combination of non-absorbable antibiotics (ATB) were applied. Results showed that ATB canceled the protective effect of stachyose without affecting LTP in control and corticosterone-treated mice, suggesting that stachyose may display its protective effects against LTP impairment by corticosterone via gut flora.

Further study is needed to uncover the relation between gut flora and the D-serine metabolic pathway.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2022.799244/full “Stachyose Alleviates Corticosterone-Induced Long-Term Potentiation Impairment via the Gut–Brain Axis”

One of this study’s references was Eat oats and regain cognitive normalcy.

A stachyose clinical trial is expected to complete this month:

“In the stachyose intervention group, each person took 5 g of stachyose daily before breakfast. Administration method was 100 ml of drinking water dissolved and taken orally for two months. Each person in the placebo control group took the same amount of maltodextrin daily. Stool samples of the 36 subjects were collected weekly.

Primary outcome measures:

  1. Expression of microRNA; and
  2. Structure of gut microbiota.”

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT05392348 “Regulatory Effect of Stachyose on Gut Microbiota and microRNA Expression in Human”


The misnomer of nonessential amino acids

Three papers, starting with a 2022 review:

“Ideal diets must provide all physiologically and nutritionally essential amino acids (AAs).

Proposed optimal ratios and amounts of true digestible AAs in diets during different phases of growth and production. Because dynamic requirements of animals for dietary AAs are influenced by a plethora of factors, data below as well as the literature serve only as references to guide feeding practices and nutritional research.


Nutritionists should move beyond the ‘ideal protein’ concept to consider optimum ratios and amounts of all proteinogenic AAs in diets for mammals, birds, and aquatic animals, and, in the case of carnivores, also taurine. This will help formulate effectively low-protein diets for livestock (including swine and high-producing dairy cattle), poultry, fish, and crustaceans, as well as zoo and companion animals.”

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/15353702221082658 “The ‘ideal protein’ concept is not ideal in animal nutrition”

A second 2022 review focused on serine:

“The main dietary source of L-serine is protein, in which L-serine content ranges between 2 and 5%. At the daily intake of ~1 g protein per kg of body weight, the amount of serine obtained from food ranges between 1.4 and 3.5 g (13.2–33.0 mmol) per day in an adult.

Mechanisms of potential benefits of supplementing L-serine include increased synthesis of sphingolipids, decreased synthesis of 1-deoxysphingolipids, decrease in homocysteine levels, and increased synthesis of cysteine and its metabolites, including glutathione. L-serine supplementation has been suggested as a rational therapeutic approach in several disorders, particularly primary disorders of L-serine synthesis, neurodegenerative disorders, and diabetic neuropathy.

Unfortunately, the number of clinical studies evaluating dietary supplementation of L-serine as a possible therapy is small. Studies examining therapeutic effects of L-serine in CNS injury and chronic renal diseases, in which it is supposed that L-serine weakens glutamate neurotoxicity and lowers homocysteine levels, respectively, are missing.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/9/1987/htm “Serine Metabolism in Health and Disease and as a Conditionally Essential Amino Acid”

A 2021 review subject was D-serine, L-serine’s D-isoform:

“The N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptor (NMDAR) and its co-agonist D-serine are currently of great interest as potential important contributors to cognitive function in normal aging and dementia. D-serine is necessary for activation of NMDAR and in maintenance of long-term potentiation, and is involved in brain development, neuronal connectivity, synaptic plasticity, and regulation of learning and memory.

The source of D-amino acids in mammals was historically attributed to diet or intestinal bacteria until racemization of L-serine by serine racemase was identified as the endogenous source of D-serine. The enzyme responsible for catabolism (breakdown) of D-serine is D-amino acid oxidase; this enzyme is most abundant in cerebellum and brainstem, areas with low levels of D-serine.

Activation of the NMDAR co-agonist-binding site by D-serine and glycine is mandatory for induction of synaptic plasticity. D-serine acts primarily at synaptic NMDARs whereas glycine acts primarily at extrasynaptic NMDARs.

In normal aging there is decreased expression of serine racemase and decreased levels of D-serine and down-regulation of NMDARs, resulting in impaired synaptic plasticity and deficits in learning and memory. In contrast, in AD there appears to be activation of serine racemase, increased levels of D-serine and overstimulation of NMDARs, resulting in cytotoxicity, synaptic deficits, and dementia.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.754032/full “An Overview of the Involvement of D-Serine in Cognitive Impairment in Normal Aging and Dementia”