Reversal of Aging-Related Neuronal Ca2+ Dysregulation and Cognitive Impairment by Delivery of a Transgene Encoding FK506-Binding Protein 12.6/1b to the Hippocampus

J Neurosci. 2015 Jul 29;35(30):10878-87. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1248-15.2015.


Brain Ca2+ regulatory processes are altered during aging, disrupting neuronal, and cognitive functions. In hippocampal pyramidal neurons, the Ca2+ -dependent slow afterhyperpolarization (sAHP) exhibits an increase with aging, which correlates with memory impairment. The increased sAHP results from elevated L-type Ca2+ channel activity and ryanodine receptor (RyR)-mediated Ca2+ release, but underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. Previously, we found that expression of the gene encoding FK506-binding protein 12.6/1b (FKBP1b), a small immunophilin that stabilizes RyR-mediated Ca2+ release in cardiomyocytes, declines in hippocampus of aged rats and Alzheimer's disease subjects. Additionally, knockdown/disruption of hippocampal FKBP1b in young rats augments neuronal Ca2+ responses. Here, we test the hypothesis that declining FKBP1b underlies aging-related hippocampal Ca2+ dysregulation. Using microinjection of adeno-associated viral vector bearing a transgene encoding FKBP1b into the hippocampus of aged male rats, we assessed the critical prediction that overexpressing FKBP1b should reverse Ca2+ -mediated manifestations of brain aging. Immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR confirmed hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression 4-6 weeks after injection. Compared to aged vector controls, aged rats overexpressing FKBP1b showed dramatic enhancement of spatial memory, which correlated with marked reduction of sAHP magnitude. Furthermore, simultaneous electrophysiological recording and Ca2+ imaging in hippocampal neurons revealed that the sAHP reduction was associated with a decrease in parallel RyR-mediated Ca2+ transients. Thus, hippocampal FKBP1b overexpression reversed key aspects of Ca2+ dysregulation and cognitive impairment in aging rats, supporting the novel hypothesis that declining FKBP1b is a molecular mechanism underlying aging-related Ca2+ dysregulation and unhealthy brain aging and pointing to FKBP1b as a potential therapeutic target.

Significance statement: This paper reports critical tests of a novel hypothesis that proposes a molecular mechanism of unhealthy brain aging and possibly, Alzheimer's disease. For more than 30 years, evidence has been accumulating that brain aging is associated with dysregulation of calcium in neurons. Recently, we found that FK506-binding protein 12.6/1b (FKBP1b), a small protein that regulates calcium, declines with aging in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory. Here we used gene therapy approaches and found that raising FKBP1b reversed calcium dysregulation and memory impairment in aging rats, allowing them to perform a memory task as well as young rats. These studies identify a potential molecular mechanism of brain aging and may also have implications for treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; FKBP; aging; calcium; memory; ryanodine receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Transgenes


  • FKBP1b protein, rat
  • Tacrolimus Binding Proteins
  • Calcium