A Goddess Of Memory
May 12, 2014

A Goddess Of Memory

Clotho was one of the three Fates of Greek mythology, along with her sisters Atropos and Lachesis. She was the daughter of Zeus and Themis – one of the lightning god’s many lovers – (or Uranus and Gaia, according to the Roman version) and was said to control when a person was born. More importantly still, it was Clotho and her sisters who assisted the messenger god Hermes in creating the alphabet, giving the gift of literacy and written word to mortals, an act only slightly less significant than the gift of fire given by the titan Prometheus. Today, while not so commonly recognized as a goddess, “Klotho” still holds power over the lives of we mere mortals in the form of a longevity gene. Recently, it was discovered that “she” might actually have further gifts to bestow upon us.

A variant of the klotho gene, called KL-VS, helps people living longer, healthier lives. Those who have one copy of the gene tend to live longer and have much lower changes of stroke than those with two copies of that same gene. Recently it was also discovered that people who have one copy of the KL-VS variant also perform better on cognitive tests regardless of other variant factors such as age, sex, or the presence of the apolipoprotein 4 gene – the main genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. In testing this, more than 700 subjects ranging between the ages of 52 to 85 were tested in a variety of cognitive skills such as learning, memory, and attention. Among these subjects, none showed any signs of dementia. 20 to 25 percent of the subjects had a single copy of the KL-VS variant, and in these tests these participants performed notably better than those who did not. It was noted that performance on these tests did decrease with age, though still with those possessing the variant performing better than those without.

Further tests using genetically engineered lab mice who were made to overproduce the klotho protein showed that these enhanced mice had higher levels of klotho in the blood and brain area called the hippocampus, which controls some degree of learning and memory. These enhanced mice lived longer than their non-enhanced counterparts and also were able to perform better on a variety of learning tests regardless of their age. In once such test, these klotho-enhanced mice were able to better remember the location of a hidden target within a maze, and thus were able to find it twice as fast as the control mice.

What does this mean? It means that researchers will have a new area of focus for finding potential treatments for patients suffering from conditions such as dementia. As people are living longer and lover lives overall, the effects of aging on the brain will become a greater problem that will require attention. At present, the estimated number of dementia cases all across the world might very well double every 20 or so years, with 35.6 million people suffering from it in 2010 to 65.7 million in 2030, and perhaps even as many as 115.4 million cases estimated in 2050. With this klotho variant showing that it may well improve cognitive functions overall, its use as a potential treatment for dementia is not one that can be ignored.

While it may have been Clotho that decides when we are to come into this world, it might well be klotho who guides us into a brighter future.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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