A tale of two systems: Lessons learned from female mid-life aging with implications for Alzheimer's prevention & treatment

Aarti Mishra, Yiwei Wang, Fei Yin, Francesca Vitali, Kathleen E. Rodgers, Maira Soto, Lisa Mosconi, Tian Wang, Roberta D. Brinton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Neurological aging is frequently viewed as a linear process of decline, whereas in reality, it is a dynamic non-linear process. The dynamic nature of neurological aging is exemplified during midlife in the female brain. To investigate fundamental mechanisms of midlife aging that underlie risk for development of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in late life, we investigated the brain at greatest risk for the disease, the aging female brain. Outcomes of our research indicate that mid-life aging in the female is characterized by the emergence of three phases: early chronological (pre-menopause), endocrinological (peri-menopause) and late chronological (post-menopause) aging. The endocrinological aging program is sandwiched between early and late chronological aging. Throughout the three stages of midlife aging, two systems of biology, metabolic and immune, are tightly integrated through a network of signaling cascades. The network of signaling between these two systems of biology underlie an orchestrated sequence of adaptative starvation responses that shift the brain from near exclusive dependence on a single fuel, glucose, to utilization of an auxiliary fuel derived from lipids, ketone bodies. The dismantling of the estrogen control of glucose metabolism during mid-life aging is a critical contributor to the shift in fuel systems and emergence of dynamic neuroimmune phenotype. The shift in fuel reliance, puts the largest reservoir of local fatty acids, white matter, at risk for catabolism as a source of lipids to generate ketone bodies through astrocytic beta oxidation. APOE4 genotype accelerates the tipping point for emergence of the bioenergetic crisis. While outcomes derived from research conducted in the female brain are not directly translatable to the male brain, the questions addressed in a female centric program of research are directly applicable to investigation of the male brain. Like females, males with AD exhibit deficits in the bioenergetic system of the brain, activation of the immune system and hallmark Alzheimer's pathologies. The drivers and trajectory of mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration in the male brain will undoubtedly share common aspects with the female in addition to factors unique to the male. Preclinical and clinical evidence indicate that midlife endocrine aging can also be a transitional bridge to autoimmune disorders. Collectively, the data indicate that endocrinological aging is a critical period “tipping point” in midlife which can initiate emergence of the prodromal stage of late-onset-Alzheimer's disease. Interventions that target both immune and metabolic shifts that occur during midlife aging have the potential to alter the trajectory of Alzheimer's risk in late life. Further, to achieve precision medicine for AD, chromosomal sex is a critical variable to consider along with APOE genotype, other genetic risk factors and stage of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101542
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • APOE
  • Aging
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Inflammation
  • Metabolism
  • Sex difference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology


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