White matter degeneration is a pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. Age remains the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s and the prevalence of age-related late onset Alzheimer’s is greatest in females.
We investigated mechanisms underlying white matter degeneration in an animal model consistent with the sex at greatest Alzheimer’s risk. Results of these analyses demonstrated decline in mitochondrial respiration, increased mitochondrial hydrogen peroxide production and cytosolic-phospholipase-A2 sphingomyelinase pathway activation during female brain aging. Electron microscopic and lipidomic analyses confirmed myelin degeneration.
An increase in fatty acids and mitochondrial fatty acid metabolism machinery was coincident with a rise in brain ketone bodies and decline in plasma ketone bodies. This mechanistic pathway and its chronologically phased activation, links mitochondrial dysfunction early in aging with later age development of white matter degeneration.
The catabolism of myelin lipids to generate ketone bodies can be viewed as a systems level adaptive response to address brain fuel and energy demand.
Elucidation of the initiating factors and the mechanistic pathway leading to white matter catabolism in the aging female brain provides potential therapeutic targets to prevent and treat demyelinating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Targeting stages of disease and associated mechanisms will be critical.