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Carl Cotman on Successful Brain Aging

The Libraries’ Speaker Series recently featured Carl Cotman, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, in a public lecture on his research on brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. An acknowledged leader in this 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.

For generations it was believed that the adult brain could not form new connections in response to injury. Cotman and his collaborators have shown, however, 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.

Professor Carl Cotman

“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, the research shows that exercise increases molecules in the brain called neurtrophic factors, which promote neuronal health and improve learning. It appears that through exercise, the brain engages in a program to sustain its health and learning efficiency, thereby optimizing 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 that exercise delays the onset of cognitive decline.

Cotman’s current research focuses on determining the optimal amount and frequency of exercise for the maintenance of brain function. He and his colleagues also seek to determine the fundamental mechanisms by which exercise can prevent disease and protect against decline. Cotman maintains that “Growing evidence shows that a healthy life style can go a long way toward promoting healthy brain aging.”

In recognition of his outstanding achievements and work, Cotman was awarded the UCI Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 2004.

For more information about the Speakers’ Series, please contact Julie Sully, Associate Director of Development (jsully@uci.edu or x44658).



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