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Researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed post-death brain tissue and compared that with the tissue of centenarians (people at least age 100) to those who died in their 60s and 70s.
The study found that those who died at younger ages had lower levels of a protein called REST (RE-1 Silencing Transcription), which quiets brain activity.
According to previous studies, REST can protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings “could have such far-ranging consequences for physiology and life span,” Bruce Yanker, genetics and neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.
Yanker says scientists are still working to identify how drugs that target the REST protein could treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
You can read more on the study published in the journal Nature.
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