Stem/progenitor cell proliferation factors FGF-2, IGF-1, and VEGF exhibit early decline during the course of aging in the hippocampus: role of astrocytes.
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Dentate neurogenesis, important for learning and memory, declines dramatically by middle age. Although studies have shown that this age-related decrease can be reversed to some extent by exogenous applications of mitogenic factors, it is unclear whether one or more of these factors exhibits decline by middle age. We hypothesize that multiple stem/progenitor cell proliferation factors exhibit early decline during the course of aging in the hippocampus, and some of these declines are linked to age-related alterations in hippocampal astrocytes. We measured the concentrations of fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the hippocampus of young, middle-aged, and aged F344 rats, using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). In addition, we quantified the total number of FGF-2 immunopositive (FGF-2+) and glial fibrillary acidic protein immunopositive (GFAP+) cells in the dentate gyrus and the entire hippocampus. Our results provide new evidence that the concentrations of FGF-2, IGF-1, and VEGF decline considerably by middle age but remain steady between middle age and old age. Further, decreased concentrations of FGF-2 during aging are associated with decreased numbers of FGF-2+ astrocytes. Quantification of GFAP+ cells, and GFAP and FGF-2 dual immunostaining analyses, reveal that aging does not decrease the total number of astrocytes but fractions of astrocytes that express FGF-2 decline considerably by middle age. Thus, dramatically decreased dentate neurogenesis by middle age is likely linked to reduced concentrations of FGF-2, IGF-1, and VEGF in the hippocampus, as each of these factors can individually influence the proliferation of stem/progenitor cells in the dentate gyrus. Additionally, the results demonstrate that decreased FGF-2 concentration during aging is a consequence of age-related impairment in FGF-2 synthesis by astrocytes.