According to The New York Times, Dr. Dena Dubal set up a lab at the University of California, San Francisco in 2011 in order to understand a hormone called Klotho. She wondered if the mysterious hormone could be the key to treating dementia and other disorders of aging brains.
She found that not only did mice with extra Klotho live 30 percent longer, the extra Klotho protected mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease from cognitive decline.
“Their thinking, in every way that we could measure them, was preserved,” said Dr. Dubal.
Extra Klotho did more than just protect the brains of mice- it enhanced them. Mice who were bred to make extra Klotho did better on learning mazes and other cognitive tests than other mice.
“I just couldn’t believe it — was it true, or was it just a false positive?” Dr. Dubal said. “But here it is. It enhances cognition even in a young mouse. It makes them smarter.”
Dubal and her colleagues began publishing their results five years ago. Since then, others have furthered her research, finding that Klotho may protect against some neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Dubal and other researchers are now trying to construct treatments based on their findings. They hope to treat diseases like Alzheimers with Klotho.
“You’ve got all of this amazing stuff showing a really major impact, but we can’t really explain why,” said Gwendalyn D. King, a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “That’s where we’re stuck.”
In 1991, a Japan-based cardiologist, Dr. Makoto Kuro-o began to study high blood pressure by inserting DNA into mouse embryos. He hoped to create mice with high blood pressure. Instead, the mice began aging too quickly.
“Usually mice live two years, but these mice were dying after two or three months,” said Dr. Kuro-o.
When the mice were autopsied, Kuro-o found that the mice had atrophied muscles and brittle bones. He searched for the responsible gene over the next few years. When he found it, he and his colleagues named it Klotho, after one of the three fates in Greek mythology. Klotho’s job in mythology was to spin the thread of a person’s life.
Kuro-o found that Klotho is produced in multiple organs, including the brian. They found that when mice lacked Klotho, their cognition deteriorated faster than normal. The researchers decided to reverse their experiment by giving mice twice as much Klotho as normal. This allowed the mice to live much longer.
Dubal wanted to see if extra Klotho could keep the brain resilient as it aged. She collaborated with Kuro-o and other experts in one study on Klotho and Alzheimer’s disease. When mice that displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s were given extra Klotho, they were more resilient and did better on cognitive tests.
Some people have a genetic variation which allows them to produce higher levels of Klotho in their bodies. Dubal identified a group of healthy old people and found that they had higher cognition than those with average levels of Klotho.
“It’s not like they didn’t undergo cognitive decline,” said Dr. Dubal. “It’s just that they started off higher.”
While Dubal has had promising results with Klotho for treating Alzheimer’s, there are certainly more studies to be done to ensure the safety and efficacy of Klotho.