Researchers have uncovered a new target in the quest to extend the lifespan of mammals. Inhibiting a common enzyme found in all mammals, including humans, has been shown to extend the lifespan of flies and worms, suggesting it could be a promising new mechanism for anti-aging therapies to target.

RNA polymerase III (Pol III) is an enzyme known to be essential for cell growth, and it is found withinin almost all cells across all mammals. Researchers from University College London, the University of Kent and the University of Groningen started examining the enzyme's involvement in aging after the immune-suppressing drug rapamycin, known to inhibit Pol III, was seen to extend the lifespan of several animal models including mice.

"Understandably, there's a lot of hype around drugs that extend lifespan and promote healthy aging but very little is known about how they work, which is fundamental knowledge," says study co-author Nazif Alic.

Pol III was inhibited using a variety of genetic techniques across several different model organisms, from flies and worms to yeast. These targets were chosen as they aren't closely related but, despite this, a lifespan extension of around 10 percent on average was seen across the experiments when Pol III activity was only modestly reduced in adult organisms.

"We've uncovered a fundamental role for Pol III in adult flies and worms: its activity negatively impacts stem cell function, gut health and the animal's survival," says first author on the study, Danny Filer. "When we inhibit its activity, we can improve all these. As Pol III has the same structure and function across species, we think its role in mammals, and humans, warrants investigation as it may lead to important therapies."

The next step for the research is to understand more thoroughly how inhibiting Pol III actually extends lifespan in animals, but the researchers suggest that this mechanism is a promising target for future anti-aging therapies.

"It is amazing that we can make one genetic adjustment and positively impact on lifespan and intestinal health, understanding more about the underlying molecules at work here promises new strategies for anti-ageing therapies," says Dr Jennifer Tullet from the University of Kent.

The study was published in the journal Nature.