BACKGROUND: Thiazolidinediones (TZDs) activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma) and are used clinically to help restore peripheral insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetes (T2DM). Interestingly, long-term treatment of mouse models of Alzheimer's disease (AD) with TZDs also has been shown to reduce several well-established brain biomarkers of AD including inflammation, oxidative stress and Abeta accumulation. While TZD's actions in AD models help to elucidate the mechanisms underlying their potentially beneficial effects in AD patients, little is known about the functional consequences of TZDs in animal models of normal aging. Because aging is a common risk factor for both AD and T2DM, we investigated whether the TZD, pioglitazone could alter brain aging under non-pathological conditions.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We used the F344 rat model of aging, and monitored behavioral, electrophysiological, and molecular variables to assess the effects of pioglitazone (PIO-Actos® a TZD) on several peripheral (blood and liver) and central (hippocampal) biomarkers of aging. Starting at 3 months or 17 months of age, male rats were treated for 4-5 months with either a control or a PIO-containing diet (final dose approximately 2.3 mg/kg body weight/day). A significant reduction in the Ca2+-dependent afterhyperpolarization was seen in the aged animals, with no significant change in long-term potentiation maintenance or learning and memory performance. Blood insulin levels were unchanged with age, but significantly reduced by PIO. Finally, a combination of microarray analyses on hippocampal tissue and serum-based multiplex cytokine assays revealed that age-dependent inflammatory increases were not reversed by PIO.

CONCLUSIONS: While current research efforts continue to identify the underlying processes responsible for the progressive decline in cognitive function seen during normal aging, available medical treatments are still very limited. Because TZDs have been shown to have benefits in age-related conditions such as T2DM and AD, our study was aimed at elucidating PIO's potentially beneficial actions in normal aging. Using a clinically-relevant dose and delivery method, long-term PIO treatment was able to blunt several indices of aging but apparently affected neither age-related cognitive decline nor peripheral/central age-related increases in inflammatory signaling.

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Published in PLoS One, v. 5, no. 4, p. 10405.

© 2010 Blalock et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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