To develop successful therapies that prevent or treat neurodegenerative diseases requires an understanding of the upstream events. Ageing is by far the greatest risk factor for most of these diseases, and to clarify their causes will require an understanding of the process of ageing itself. Starting with the question Why do we age as individual organisms, but the line of pluripotent embryonic stem cells and germ cells carried by individuals and transmitted to descendants is immortal? this review discusses how the process of cellular differentiation leads to the accumulation of biological imperfections with ageing, and how these imperfections may be the cause of chronic inflammatory responses to stress that undermine cellular function. Both differentiation and inflammation involve drastic metabolic changes associated with alterations in mitochondrial dynamics that shift the balance between aerobic glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation. With ageing, mitochondrial dysfunction can be both the cause and consequence of inflammatory processes and elicit metabolic adaptations that might be either protective or become progressively detrimental. It is argued here that an understanding of the relationship between metabolism, differentiation and inflammation is essential to understand the pathological mechanisms governing brain health and disease during ageing.
Keywords: Differentiation; Inflammation; Metabolism; Neurodegenerative diseases.
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