Infants Uniquely Express High Levels of RBM3 and Other Cold-Adaptive Neuroprotectant Proteins in the Human Brain

Dev Neurosci. 2018;40(4):325-336. doi: 10.1159/000493637. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Neuroprotective cold-shock proteins (CSPs) are abundant in the normothermic neonatal rodent brain but decrease with advancing neurodevelopmental age and are low or absent in the adult brain. It has not been established if neurodevelopmental age alters the baseline expression of CSPs in the human brain. Here, we tested the hypothesis that protein levels of RNA-binding motif 3 (RBM3), reticulon-3 (RTN3), and cold-induced RNA-binding protein (CIRBP) are abundant in the normothermic developing human brain but low-to-absent in adults. We also tested if β-klotho (KLB) is expressed in the developing brain; KLB functions as a coreceptor that controls tissue-specific binding and activity of the systemically circulating thermogenic hormone fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), and is predominantly expressed in the liver, pancreas, and in adipose cells. Methods: Hippocampi and anterior prefrontal cortices (aPFCs/BA10) from a total of 20 male and 20 female subjects were obtained from the NIH NeuroBioBank. CSP and KLB levels were measured in: infants < 1 year old (n = 8), toddlers aged 1-2 years (n = 8), children aged 3-5 years (n = 7), 18-year-old adolescents (n = 8), and adults aged 31-34 years (n = 8). An equal number of male and female (n = 4 each) samples were pooled into each age group, except in the 3- to 5-year-olds which comprised 3 male and 4 female specimens due to sample availability. In total, 78 whole-brain tissues were dissociated using a bead-based Precellys homogenizer to generate equivalent homogenates, and levels of protein targets subsequently analyzed by Western blotting. Results: Infants had the highest levels of RBM3 and other CSPs in the brain compared to all other ages. In the hippocampus, CSPs were detected predominantly in infants. In the aPFC, CSP levels were highest in infants, moderate-to-low in toddlers/children, and below assay detection limits in adolescents/adults. Germane to the thermogenic FGF21/KLB signaling axis, our results confirm that KLB is absent in the adult hippocampus/aPFC as reported by others. In contrast, we report for the first time that KLB is abundant in the early developing human brain; KLB levels were highest in the infant hippocampus/aPFC and moderately expressed in toddlers. RBM3 is a potent neuroprotective CSP. Thus, the impact of these findings on the observed efficacy of therapeutic hypothermia in neonatal brain injury merits further investigation.

Keywords: Aging; BA10; Brain; CIRBP; FGF21; Hippocampus; RTN3; β-Klotho.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western / methods
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Klotho Proteins
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA-Binding Motifs / physiology
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • KLB protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • RBM3 protein, human
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • fibroblast growth factor 21
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors
  • Klotho Proteins