Is your genetic makeup affecting your ability to cope with cognitive stress? Genetics and stress have more in common than one might think. Recent studies suggest a specific gene in the human population is responsible for the development of cognitive resilience, which contributes to higher mental activity as we age. Cognitive resilience is the ability to maintain one’s mental faculties despite stress or adversity. It is thought to be partially hereditary, with some people being born with greater natural resilience than others. People who are older are more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Do you wonder why some people show signs of brain neurodegeneration and other people remain sharp? According to MIT researchers, cognitively resilient individuals have higher levels of education and spend more time doing activities that stimulate their minds. Enrichment like this activates a gene family called MEF2.
What Is MEF2?
Myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2) plays an important role in cardiovascular development, differentiation, neurodevelopment and neuron function. Researchers believe that MEF2 has a role in regulating a gene that plays a part in memory and cognitive function. Research on mice and humans shows that MEF2 contributes to cognitive resilience. They have found this by doing experiments on mice with high levels of MEF2 in either an enriched environment or a standard laboratory environment for six weeks. Compared to mice living in standard conditions, mice exposed to the enriched environment showed improved performance on spatial learning tasks and enhanced dendritic spine density.
Cognitive Resilience and MEF2 Study
According to many studies, certain environmental factors may protect against neurodegenerative diseases. From a single-cell RNA-sequencing analysis of human brain cells, researchers also discovered that MEF2 is most active in excitatory neurons of the prefrontal cortex in individuals who are resilient.
A recent study indicates a positive relationship between cognitive resilience and language proficiency, educational level, reading participation and crossword puzzle participation. In both mouse models and human datasets, MEF2 was identified as a critical player. Researchers from MIT found a strong correlation between cognitive resilience and MEF2, along with several genes it regulates, among over 1,000 people in two human datasets. The mice exposed to enriched environments had an increased level of MEF2 activity, as seen in human studies as well.
As a result of getting rid of MEF2 in frontal cortex tissues, mice could no longer benefit from enriched environments, resulting in abnormally excitable neurons. According to researchers, MEF2 could play a part in determining a person’s overall cognitive potential in response to environmental factors. In the next study, the researchers explored the possibility of MEF2 reversing the symptoms of dementia in mice that expressed tau protein, a protein implicated in dementia and known to cause brain tangles.
In mice over-expressed with MEF2 at an early age, researchers found that they did not exhibit cognitive impairment associated with tau proteins later in life. They also found neurons that over-expressed MEF2 exhibited a lesser level of excitability. The study revealed that over-expressing MEF2 prevented hyperexcitability in mice with neurodegeneration, explaining why the mice performed better cognitively than control mice.
Strengthening Cognitive Resilience
Based on these findings, MEF2 activity may play a role in protecting against dementia. However, your ability to adapt and recover quickly after trauma or adversity will determine the strength of your cognitive resilience. When you are resilient, you can handle life’s challenges more easily. Less resilient people feel overwhelmed by life, dwell on problems and use unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress. This can lead to anxiety and depression. You can empower yourself by knowing the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. According to research, there is a possibility of identifying the effectors that promote resilience and neuroprotection, and creating a more targeted treatment.
Further research is needed to confirm that MEF2 activation is not harmful, since MEF2 affects a wide range of cell types. In the meantime, the MIT researchers hope to learn more about how enriching environments activate MEF2. They will also investigate the effects of genes regulated by MEF2. Knowing more about which genes contribute to cognitive resilience may help scientists develop new interventions and therapies to protect the elderly from age-related declines in cognitive function.
This gene discovery could lead to the detection of other genes, resulting in major implications for the study of cognitive resilience. This study opens up new opportunities to help older adults of all backgrounds keep up their cognitive abilities as they age. This could have a dramatic impact on seniors’ quality of life, enabling them to remain mentally sharp and engaged as they age. Physical exercise and social interactions are important in sustaining a healthy and vital aging population. Reinforcing such behaviors with genetics can pave the way for a better quality of life for the elderly. With further research, it is possible that experts can understand how to best support the cognitive system long-term.