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The expanding universe of neurotrophic factors: therapeutic potential in aging and age-associated disorders.

Multiple molecular, cellular, structural and functional changes occur in the brain during aging. Neural cells may respond to these changes adaptively by employing multiple mechanisms in order to maintain the integrity of nerve cell circuits and to facilitate responses to environmental demands. Otherwise, they may succumb to neurodegenerative cascades that result in disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. An important role in this balancement is played by neurotrophic factors, which are central to many aspects of nervous system function since they regulate the development, maintenance and survival of neurons and neuron-supporting cells such as glia and oligodendrocytes. A vast amount of evidence indicates that alterations in levels of neurotrophic factors or their receptors can lead to neuronal death and contribute to aging as well as to the pathogenesis of diseases of abnormal trophic support (such as neurodegenerative diseases and depression) and diseases of abnormal excitability (such as epilepsy and central pain sensitization). Cellular and molecular mechanisms by which neurotrophic factors may influence cell survival and excitability are also critically examined to provide novel concepts and targets for the treatment of physiological changes bearing detrimental functional alterations and of different diseases affecting the central nervous system during aging.

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