On October 11, the Libraries’ Speaker Series featured Carl Cotman, Professor in the Departments of Neurology, and Neurobiology & Behavior, and Director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, at UCI, in a talk about his highly respected research on brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. A leading expert in his field, Cotman has been studying the ability of the adult brain to form new connections and respond to injury and disease for more than 20 years.
Professor Carl Cotman
For generations, it was commonly believed that the adult brain could not form new connections in response to injury. However, Cotman and his collaborators have shown that the aged brain is just as good at responding to injury as an adult brain. Cotman was one of the first to make a connection between vitamin E and Alzheimer’s, and is now looking at how cells change in the brain to cause Alzheimer’s.
“As the population ages, the development of strategies to maintain and even enhance neuronal plasticity and cognitive function in the elderly is a critical priority,” Cotman said. “Our studies suggest that lifelong learning, mental and physical exercise, continuing social engagement, stress reduction, and proper nutrition may be important factors in promoting cognitive vitality in aging.”
Specifically, research shows that exercise increases molecules in the brain called neurtrophic factors which promote neuronal health and improve learning. It seems the brain through exercise is engaging a program to sustain its health, learn efficiency and thereby optimize the overall quality of life. In transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease, exercise reduces the build up of some of the pathology associated with the disease and improves learning, a finding consistent with human studies showing exercise delays the onset of cognitive decline.
Cotman’s current research is focusing on determining the amount of exercise and the frequency of exercise optimal for the maintenance of brain function with aging. Cotman and coworkers are also seeking to establish the fundamental mechanisms by which exercise can serve to prevent disease and help protect against decline. Cotman maintains, “Growing evidence shows that a healthy life style can go a long way toward promoting healthy brain aging.”
Due to his outstanding achievements and work, Dr. Cotman was awarded in 2004 the UCI Medal, the university’s highest honor.