Neural cell state shifts and fate loss in ageing and age-related diseases

Nat Rev Neurol. 2023 Jul;19(7):434-443. doi: 10.1038/s41582-023-00815-0. Epub 2023 Jun 2.


Most age-related neurodegenerative diseases remain incurable owing to an incomplete understanding of the disease mechanisms. Several environmental and genetic factors contribute to disease onset, with human biological ageing being the primary risk factor. In response to acute cellular damage and external stimuli, somatic cells undergo state shifts characterized by temporal changes in their structure and function that increase their resilience, repair cellular damage, and lead to their mobilization to counteract the pathology. This basic cell biological principle also applies to human brain cells, including mature neurons that upregulate developmental features such as cell cycle markers or glycolytic reprogramming in response to stress. Although such temporary state shifts are required to sustain the function and resilience of the young human brain, excessive state shifts in the aged brain might result in terminal fate loss of neurons and glia, characterized by a permanent change in cell identity. Here, we offer a new perspective on the roles of cell states in sustaining health and counteracting disease, and we examine how cellular ageing might set the stage for pathological fate loss and neurodegeneration. A better understanding of neuronal state and fate shifts might provide the means for a controlled manipulation of cell fate to promote brain resilience and repair.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neurons* / physiology