Due to the increase in average age, studies on changes in the brain following general aging process without serious brain diseases have also become an issue that requires in-depth studies. Regarding aging research, as aging progresses, ‘sugar’ accumulates in the body, and the accumulated sugar becomes a causative agent for various diseases such as aging-related inflammation and vascular disease. In the end, “surplus” sugar molecules attach to various proteins in the body and interfere with their functions.
KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee), a joint research team of Professor Pilnam Kim and Professor Yong Jeong of the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering, revealed on the 15th that it was confirmed that the function of being the “front line of defense” for the cerebrocortex of the brain meninges, the layers of membranes that surrounds the brain, is hindered when 'sugar' begins to build up on them as aging progresses.
Professor Kim's research team confirmed excessive accumulation of sugar molecules in the meninges of the elderly and also confirmed that sugar accumulation occurs mouse models in accordance with certain age levels. The meninges are thin membranes that surround the brain and exist at the boundary between the cerebrospinal fluid and the cortex and play an important role in protecting the brain. In this study, it was revealed that the dysfunction of these brain membranes caused by aging is induced by 'excess' sugar in the brain. In particular, as the meningeal membrane becomes thinner and stickier due to aging, a new paradigm has been provided for the discovery of the principle of the decrease in material exchange between the cerebrospinal fluid and the cerebral cortex.
This research was conducted by the Ph.D. candidate Hyo Min Kim and Dr. Shinheun Kim as the co-first authors to be published online on February 28th in the international journal, Aging Cell. (Paper Title: Glycation-mediated tissue-level remodeling of brain meningeal membrane by aging)
The meninges, which are in direct contact with the cerebrospinal fluid, are mainly composed of collagen, an extracellular matrix (ECM) protein, and are composed of fibroblasts, which are cells that produce this protein. The cells that come in contact with collagen proteins that are attached with sugar have a low collagen production function, while the meningeal membrane continuously thins and collapses as the expression of collagen degrading enzymes increases.
Studies on the relationship between excess sugar molecules accumulation in the brain due to continued sugar intake and the degeneration of neurons and brain diseases have been continuously conducted. However, this study was the first to identify meningeal degeneration and dysfunction caused by glucose accumulation with the focus on the meninges itself, and the results are expected to present new ideas for research into approach towards discoveries of new treatments for brain disease.
Researcher Hyomin Kim, the first author, introduced the research results as “an interesting study that identified changes in the barriers of the brain due to aging through a convergent approach, starting from the human brain and utilizing an animal model with a biomimetic meningeal model”.
Professor Pilnam Kim's research team is conducting research and development to remove sugar that accumulated throughout the human body, including the meninges. Advanced glycation end products, which are waste products formed when proteins and sugars meet in the human body, are partially removed by macrophages. However, glycated products bound to extracellular matrix proteins such as collagen are difficult to remove naturally. Through the KAIST-Ceragem Research Center, this research team is developing a healthcare medical device to remove 'sugar residue' in the body.
This study was carried out with the National Research Foundation of Korea's collective research support.
Figure 1. Schematic diagram of proposed mechanism showing aging‐related ECM remodeling through meningeal fibroblasts on the brain leptomeninges. Meningeal fibroblasts in the young brain showed dynamic COL1A1 synthetic and COL1‐interactive function on the collagen membrane. They showed ITGB1‐mediated adhesion on the COL1‐composed leptomeningeal membrane and induction of COL1A1 synthesis for maintaining the collagen membrane. With aging, meningeal fibroblasts showed depletion of COL1A1 synthetic function and altered cell–matrix interaction.
Figure 2. Representative rat meningeal images observed in the study. Compared to young rats, it was confirmed that type 1 collagen (COL1) decreased along with the accumulation of glycated end products (AGE) in the brain membrane of aged rats, and the activity of integrin beta 1 (ITGB1), a representative receptor corresponding to cell-collagen interaction. Instead, it was observed that the activity of discoidin domain receptor 2 (DDR2), one of the tyrosine kinases, increased.
Figure 3. Substance flux through the brain membrane decreases with aging. It was confirmed that the degree of adsorption of fluorescent substances contained in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to the brain membrane increased and the degree of entry into the periphery of the cerebral blood vessels decreased in the aged rats. In this study, only the influx into the brain was confirmed during the entry and exit of substances, but the degree of outflow will also be confirmed through future studies.