Stanford University

Disruption of the Communication Between Systems During Aging

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Aging is a multifaceted process that affects us all. My research examines how different systems in the body communicate with one another, and how these communication networks deteriorate with aging and age-related diseases. My long-term goal is to identify methods to restore communication between organs and systems to counteract the aging process, with a focus on communication between the nervous system and the intestine (gut) which, houses the innate immune system.

During aging and certain neurodegenerative diseases, a key hallmark that drastically affects the nervous system is protein aggregation. These protein aggregates form and cannot be removed from the cell, resulting in a stressed state that affects the cell’s normal functions. These protein aggregates may also disrupt a neuron’s ability to communicate with the innate immune system in distal organs such as the gut.  As a result, the gut can become under or over activated trying to maintain a balanced state due to the disrupted signals coming from the nervous system.  This can lead to an abnormal activation of the immune system potentially resulting in organismal stress.  While protein aggregation in the nervous system may be difficult to stop, my research aims to restore organ communication networks to stop the effects a disrupted nervous system has on other tissues, that are otherwise healthy, to extend lifespan.