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Rodent of the week: Finding the root cause of aging

November 28, 2008 |  2:00 pm

Rodent_of_the_weekResearchers believe they have identified a fundamental cause of aging, according to a study published this week in the journal Cell. The mechanism was previously found in fungus and has now been discovered in mice. It's likely that the same process applies to humans, said the authors of the research, from Harvard.

The study found that DNA damage, which accrues as we age, decreases a cell's ability to regulate which genes are turned on and off in particular settings. Though DNA damage speeds up aging, the actual cause is not the DNA damage but the lack of gene regulation. However, this lack of gene regulation, called epigenetics, may be reversible.

The study focused on a group of genes called sirtuins that are involved in the aging process. Sirtuins respond to DNA damage to repair it but appear to become overwhelmed as DNA damage accumulates during aging. When DNA damage accumulates, the sirtuins became too distracted to properly regulate gene activity. This was found in yeast about 10 years ago. The new study shows it also occurs in mice.

But when stimulated by either the chemical in red wine, resveratrol, or by caloric restriction, sirtuins appear to function better. In the study, researchers administered extra copies of the sirtuin gene, or fed resveratrol to mice that were genetically altered to develop lymphoma. That extended their lifespan by 24% to 46%.

"We see here, through a proof-of-principal demonstration, that elements of aging can be reversed," said one of the researchers, Philipp Oberdoerffer, in a news release.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.