For the first time, neurovascular researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute have associated a more advanced biological age than chronological age with the presence of an indicator of brain aging: white matter hyperintensities, areas of the brain where blood reaches more difficulty.
Jordi Jiménez-Conde, assistant physician at the Hospital del Mar Neurology Service and coordinator of the study, explained that the work will make it possible to identify with a blood test which people will have a greater tendency to present accelerated brain aging. The neurologist recalled that a person’s biological age, that is, the real age of their body, which is independent of chronological age and can be measured in specific blood tests, is marked by lifestyle habits.
The influence of lifestyle habits
Jiménez-Conde explained that life habits influence the configuration of DNA and will determine biological age, but if these habits are modified, DNA aging can be slowed down and, therefore, biological age, thus slowing down the increase in White matter hyperintensities in brain tissue. The study, published in the journal ‘Biology’, has revealed that white matter hyperintensities are areas of the brain that appear differently on magnetic resonance images and indicate that it is a tissue that is more difficult for blood to reach.
“A good part of the effect of the passing of the years on our brain is not only given by the chronological age, which we have due to our date of birth, but by the biological age, which explains many other things that the chronological age did not happen”, the neurologist has emphasized.
Biological age in blood samples
For the study, the researchers did blood tests and MRIs on 247 stroke patients, and the MRIs determined the volume of white matter hyperintensities in their brains. They also determined the biological age in blood samples, by analyzing the degree of methylation of their DNA, which is modified based on external factors, such as lifestyle habits.
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In this way, they demonstrated for the first time how “biological age, the aging of the body, has a direct association with brain aging independently of chronological age”, has summarized Jiménez Conde. In fact, biological age would explain 42.7% of brain aging measured by the presence of white matter hyperintensities, according to Joan Jiménez-Balado, also a researcher at IMIM, who specified that “we must continue studying the effect that genetics on these brain lesions, as it may help us better understand the biological mechanisms involved in brain ageing.”
Injuries to brain tissue
“In the same way, -he added- it will be interesting in future studies to use the new computer approaches that allow white matter hyperintensities to be classified based on aspects such as their location and see if, for example, it happens that we are considering these lesions as a all when in reality different causes are associated depending on the space they occupy”.
In this sense, the researchers have specified that a high presence of white matter hyperintensity is associated with various pathologies, such as non-specific cognitive impairment, gait disturbances and a worse prognosis in the brain’s ability to recover from any pathology that affects it. .
“Its volume increases with age and is not reversible. But it could act on biological age and slow DNA aging with changes in our lifestyles, which may have an impact on slowing down the increase in these lesions in brain tissue with a deceleration of the aging of the brain”, have concluded the authors of the work.