Medical

Activating gene in key organ systems slows aging process throughout the body

Activating gene in key organ s...
Activating a gene called AMPK in the nervous system induces the anti-aging cellular recycling process of autophagy in both the brain and intestine, substantially prolonging the healthy lifespan of fruit flies (Image: Matthew Ulgherait/UCLA)
Activating a gene called AMPK in the nervous system induces the anti-aging cellular recycling process of autophagy in both the brain and intestine, substantially prolonging the healthy lifespan of fruit flies (Image: Matthew Ulgherait/UCLA)
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Activating a gene called AMPK in the nervous system induces the anti-aging cellular recycling process of autophagy in both the brain and intestine, substantially prolonging the healthy lifespan of fruit flies (Image: Matthew Ulgherait/UCLA)
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Activating a gene called AMPK in the nervous system induces the anti-aging cellular recycling process of autophagy in both the brain and intestine, substantially prolonging the healthy lifespan of fruit flies (Image: Matthew Ulgherait/UCLA)

With a typical lifespan of around six weeks, the common fruit fly is one animal that could benefit from a slowing of the aging process. And that's just what a team of biologists at UCLA have achieved by activating a gene called AMPK. Possibly of more interest to us higher life forms is the researchers' belief that the discovery could help delay aging and age-related diseases in humans.

AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme that acts as a metabolic master switch and is activated in response to low cellular energy levels. It has previously been shown to activate a cellular process known as autophagy, which protects against aging by enabling cells to degrade and discard old, damaged "cellular garbage" before it damages cells. Although AMPK is also found in humans, it is not usually activated at a high level.

The UCLA research team found that increasing the amount of AMPK in the intestines of common fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) increased their lifespan by around 30 percent, up from the typical six weeks to around eight weeks. Importantly, the fruit flies stayed healthier for longer as well, with the beneficial effects not restricted to the organ where it was activated.

"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research.

"A really interesting finding was when Matt (lead author of the study, Matthew Ulgherait) activated AMPK in the nervous system, he saw evidence of increased levels of autophagy in not only the brain, but also in the intestine,” adds Walker. "And vice versa: Activating AMPK in the intestine produced increased levels of autophagy in the brain – and perhaps elsewhere, too."

Walker says that this approach could make it possible to slow the aging process throughout the entire body, including the brain, by accessing more accessible organs like the intestine, rather than key organs that are technically difficult to deliver treatments to.

"Instead of studying the diseases of aging – Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes – one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases," said Walker. "We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic. The ultimate aim of our research is to promote healthy aging in people."

The team's study appears in the open-source journal Cell Reports (PDF)

.Source: UCLA

3 comments
Nairda
Well snap ! In the face of those who said the human age capacity was on average stagnant and tapering to 120, and in some place on the decline. Science is not satisfied with limits. Higher, faster, stronger. For some of us in our middle years it might mean if we hold out another few decades, we might live to hit 200.
Riaanh
Oh yeah, just what the world needs now! - Never mind the rising population levels in the world, never mind that technology is eating our jobs, never mind that our fossil fuels is running out, never mind that we are busy stuffing our environment up, never mind that a large portion of the world population goes hungry everyday, never mind that the wealth divide keeps on growing, never mind the increasing levels of violence.... If we carry on like this we will have jobless, poor, hungry billions on the one side, and then the elite 1%, who owns 80% of the world and can afford these potentially expensive stay young drugs. Really some fun in-store for us.
Don Duncan
Riaanh: The more people, the more resources to solve problems. People are not the problem, politics, e.g., the faith in force is. When the initiation of force is no longer seen as moral or necessary, people can stop being their own destroyers. It will only take around 10% to start with, but their example will light the way for a new age of social progress. It will be a check on the sociopaths who now hold the power. All it will take is for people to say "never mind" to those who seek the power to rule.