Could imitating a cold-water shock help with cognition? In many neurodegenerative disorders, there is a loss of synapses, the active connections between brain cells. When they stop functioning, brain cells die. Dr. Giovanna Mallucci has shown that synapse loss occurs early in neurodegeneration; however, if you prevent that loss in mice, you can save brain cells and prevent neurodegeneration. Her team has demonstrated that when mice are cooled, their brain cells produce “cold shock” proteins that protect synapses. This can happen naturally, during winter hibernation, or artificially in the laboratory. The scientists also developed an experimental therapeutic substance that turns on these “cold shock” proteins. When the mice are given the compound, or cooled, early in the course of disease, they show no neurological decline. The treatment is still in early stages and it is dangerous to subject people to hypothermia. So, Dr. Mallucci’s team has started working with people who normally engage in cold-water winter swimming. Excitingly, they have found the same “cold shock” proteins in the winter swimmers as found in the mice. It is important to emphasize that hypothermia is dangerous, so do not try this on your own. However, it does suggest the researchers are on the right track. With further testing, stimulating “cold shock” proteins could be a successful therapy in treating and preventing cognitive decline in humans.
Mallucci D. Mechanisms to medicines in neurodegeneration. Lecture presented for the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa; 2020 Feb 19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0-OCVPP6EE.
Bastide A, et al. RTN3 is a novel cold-induced protein and mediates neuroprotective effects of RBM3. Curr Biol. 2017;27(5):638-650. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.01.047.