Brain Ca(2+) regulatory processes are altered during aging, disrupting neuronal, and cognitive functions. In hippocampal pyramidal neurons, the Ca(2+)-dependent slow afterhyperpolarization (sAHP) exhibits an increase with aging, which correlates with memory impairment. The increased sAHP results from elevated L-type Ca(2+) channel activity and ryanodine receptor (RyR)-mediated Ca(2+) release, but underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. Previously, we found that expression of the gene encoding FK506-binding protein 12.6/1b (FKBP1b), a small immunophilin that stabilizes RyR-mediated Ca(2+) release in cardiomyocytes, declines in hippocampus of aged rats and Alzheimer's disease subjects. Additionally, knockdown/disruption of hippocampal FKBP1b in young rats augments neuronal Ca(2+) responses. Here, we test the hypothesis that declining FKBP1b underlies aging-related hippocampal Ca(2+) dysregulation. Using microinjection of adeno-associated viral vector bearing a transgene encoding FKBP1b into the hippocampus of aged male rats, we assessed the critical prediction that overexpressing FKBP1b should reverse Ca(2+)-mediated manifestations of brain aging. Immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR confirmed hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression 4-6 weeks after injection. Compared to aged vector controls, aged rats overexpressing FKBP1b showed dramatic enhancement of spatial memory, which correlated with marked reduction of sAHP magnitude. Furthermore, simultaneous electrophysiological recording and Ca(2+) imaging in hippocampal neurons revealed that the sAHP reduction was associated with a decrease in parallel RyR-mediated Ca(2+) transients. Thus, hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression reversed key aspects of Ca(2+) dysregulation and cognitive impairment in aging rats, supporting the novel hypothesis that declining FKBP1b is a molecular mechanism underlying aging-related Ca(2+) dysregulation and unhealthy brain aging and pointing to FKBP1b as a potential therapeutic target.

Significance Statement

This paper reports critical tests of a novel hypothesis that proposes a molecular mechanism of unhealthy brain aging and possibly, Alzheimer's disease. For more than 30 years, evidence has been accumulating that brain aging is associated with dysregulation of calcium in neurons. Recently, we found that FK506-binding protein 12.6/1b (FKBP1b), a small protein that regulates calcium, declines with aging in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory. Here we used gene therapy approaches and found that raising FKBP1b reversed calcium dysregulation and memory impairment in aging rats, allowing them to perform a memory task as well as young rats. These studies identify a potential molecular mechanism of brain aging and may also have implications for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, v. 35, issue 30, p. 10878-10887.

Copyright © 2015 Gant et al.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.

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Funding Information

This work was supported by Grant R37-AG004542 from the National Institute on Aging.