Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
With the continued extension of lifespan, aging and age-related diseases have become a major medical challenge to our society. Aging is accompanied by changes in multiple systems. Among these, the aging process in the central nervous system is critically important but very poorly understood. Neurons, as post-mitotic cells, are devoid of replicative associated aging processes, such as senescence and telomere shortening. However, because of the inability to self-replenish, neurons have to withstand challenge from numerous stressors over their lifetime. Many of these stressors can lead to damage of the neurons' DNA. When the accumulation of DNA damage exceeds a neuron's capacity for repair, or when there are deficiencies in DNA repair machinery, genome instability can manifest. The increased mutation load associated with genome instability can lead to neuronal dysfunction and ultimately to neuron degeneration. In this review, we first briefly introduce the sources and types of DNA damage and the relevant repair pathways in the nervous system (summarized in Fig. 1). We then discuss the chromatin regulation of these processes and summarize our understanding of the contribution of genomic instability to neurodegenerative diseases.