Discoveries
Aging
Aging
Getting older doesn't have to mean getting sicker. We are committed to discovering the fundamental causes of aging and finding new ways to prevent and treat aging-related diseases.

Discoveries

PLOS Genetics
01/18/2019

New technologies enable better-than-ever details on genetically modified plants

Professor Joseph Ecker, along with co-first authors Florian Jupe, Angeline Rivkin, Mark Zander and Todd Michael (of the J. Craig Venter Institute) and colleagues mapped the genomes and epigenomes of genetically modified plant lines with high resolution to show what happens at a molecular level when a piece of foreign DNA is inserted. Their findings not only elucidate the routine methods used to modify plants but also offer new ways to minimize potential off-target effects.

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Cell
06/28/2018

How the office org chart in your brain helps to organize your actions

Salk researchers have resolved a long-standing scientific debate about how behavior is organized in the brain. Associate Professor Xin Jin and first author Claire Geddes, a UC San Diego graduate student, discovered that learned behavior is organized in a hierarchy with multiple levels of control, offering possible new therapeutic targets for disorders that involve an inability to control one’s actions. The study used mice trained to carry out a series of lever presses in a specific order, left-left-right-right, to make the discovery.

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PNAS
10/10/2018

To repair DNA damage, plants need good contractors

Associate Professor Julie Law and first author Clara Bourbousse showed which genes are turned on or off, and in which order, to protect and repair the genome in response to DNA damage.

The research reveals the genetic framework controlling a complex biological process that has broad implications for understanding how plants in particular, and organisms in general, cope with DNA damage to ensure long-term health and fitness.

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Neuron
10/18/2018

Brain cells called astrocytes have unexpected role in brain “plasticity”

A Salk team led by Associate Professor Nicola Allen and first author Elena Blanco-Suarez showed that astrocytes—long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain—enable the brain’s plasticity, a previously unknown role for these cells. The team found that a protein secreted by astrocytes called Chrdl1 increases the number and maturity of connections between nerve cells, enabling the stabilization of neural connections and circuits once the connections finish developing. The findings could point to ways to restore connections lost due to aging or trauma.

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Cell Metabolism
11/08/2018

Genetic “whodunit” for cancer gene solved

Long thought to suppress cancer by slowing cellular metabolism, the protein complex AMPK also seems to help tumors grow in some cases, confounding researchers. The lab of Professor Reuben Shaw, including first author Lillian Eichner, showed that advanced cancers can trigger AMPK’s cellular recycling signal to cannibalize pieces of the cell, supplying large lung tumors with the nutrients they need to grow, despite being far from blood vessels. Blocking AMPK in some conditions could stop the growth of advanced tumors in the most common type of lung cancer.

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Trends in Pharma Sciences
11/13/2018

Researchers report new methods to identify alzheimer’s drug candidates that have anti-aging properties

Old age is the greatest risk factor for many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cancer. First author and Professor David Schubert, senior author Pamela Maher and colleagues identified a unique subclass of anti-aging compounds, dubbed geroneuroprotectors. These potential AD-drug candidates slow the aging process in mice.

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Cell Reports
11/27/2018

Why screen time can disrupt sleep

Professor Satchin Panda, first author Ludovic Mure and colleagues pinpointed how certain cells in our eyes process ambient light and reset our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms—the daily cycles of physiological processes. When these cells are exposed to artificial light late into the night, our internal clocks can become disoriented, resulting in a host of health issues. By detailing the interactions of the light-sensitive protein melanopsin and how the eyes react to light, the research may lead to new treatments for migraines, insomnia, jet lag and circadian-rhythm disorders.

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PNAS
12/03/2018

To detect new odors, fruit fly brains improve on a well-known computer algorithm

It might seem like fruit flies would have nothing in common with computers, but Assistant Professor Saket Navlakha and collaborators from Salk and UC San Diego found that fruit flies and computers identify novel information in similar ways.

The work not only sheds light on an important neurobiological problem—how organisms detect new odors—but also could improve algorithms for novelty detection in computer science.

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Nature Comm
12/03/2018

Maintaining the unlimited potential of stem cells

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are the very definition of being full of potential, given that they can become any type of cell in the body. But once they start down the process of turning into a particular type of tissue, they lose their unlimited potential. Assistant Professor Diana Hargreaves, first author Jovylyn Gatchalian and colleagues discovered a new protein complex that keeps the brakes on stem cells, allowing them to maintain their indefinite potential to become any cell type. The new complex, called GBAF, could provide a future target for regenerative medicine.

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Genome Biology
12/19/2018

Age is more than just a number: machine learning may be able to predict if you’re in for a healthy old age

Assistant Professor Saket Navlakha and Vice President, Chief Science Officer and Professor Martin Hetzer, along with first author Jason Fleischer and colleagues, analyzed skin cells ranging from the very young to the very old and found molecular signatures that can be predictive of age. By better understanding the biological processes of aging, this work could help to address health conditions that are more common in advanced age, such as heart disease and dementia.

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Neuron
12/31/2018

Thriving on teamwork: new research shows how brain cells filter information in groups

For decades, scientists studying the visual system thought that neurons operated as filters. Some neurons preferred coarse details of the visual scene and ignored fine details, while other neurons did the opposite. Professor Thomas Albright, first author Ambarish Pawar and coauthors found that the same neurons that preferred coarse details were able to change to prefer finer details under different conditions. The work could help to better understand neural mechanisms that shape our perceptions of the world.

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Cell Reports
01/02/2019

Salk scientists uncover the health effects of metabolic “magic bullet” protein

The metabolic protein AMPK has been described as a kind of magic bullet for well-being because it can improve cardiovascular health, treat mitochondrial disease and even extend life span.

Now, Professor Reuben Shaw, first author Daniel Garcia and collaborators have developed a new system that lets them study in detail exactly how, where and when AMPK carries out its molecular and therapeutic functions.

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Nature Neuro
01/07/2019

Scientists reveal clues into early development of autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects roughly 1 in 59 children in the United States. Salk President and Professor Rusty Gage, first author Simon Schafer, and colleagues compared stem cells created from the skin cells of individuals with ASD against stem cells created from individuals without ASD to uncover, for the first time, measurable differences in the patterns and speed of development in the ASD-derived cells. The findings could lead to diagnostic methods to detect the disorder at an early stage.

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eLife
01/15/2019

Research confirms nerve cells made from skin cells are a valid lab model for studying disease

Professor Joseph Ecker, co-first author Chongyuan Luo and collaborators at Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine showed that cells induced to grow into nerve cells have molecular signatures matching neurons in the brain.

The study opens the door for better ways to model an individual patient’s disease and could help advance research into gene therapies that are derived from a patient’s own cells.

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Nature
01/23/2019

In surprising reversal, scientists find a cellular process that stops cancer before it starts

Cells regularly break down and recycle their components in a process called autophagy. Professor Jan Karlseder, first author Joe Nassour and colleagues made a surprising discovery: autophagy—generally thought of as a survival mechanism for both cancerous and normal cells—can actually promote the death of cells, thereby preventing cancer initiation. The work reveals autophagy to be a novel tumor-suppressing pathway and suggests that treatments to block the process in an effort to curb cancer may unintentionally promote it very early on.

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