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Worms reveal secrets of aging
October 22, 2017, 4:49 pm

Investigators at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, in the US, have identified a molecular pathway that controls lifespan and health-span in worms and mice. Researchers there have showed that worms with excess levels of certain proteins lived longer and healthier than normal worms. In addition, mice with excess levels of these proteins demonstrated a delay in blood vessel dysfunction associated with aging. The study has major implications in understanding aging and age-associated disorders.

By artificially increasing or decreasing the levels of a family of proteins called Kruppel-like transcription factors (KLF), the scientists were able to get certain small worms to live for longer or shorter time periods. This finding is especially exciting since the same family of proteins also exist in mammals, including humans, and could have similar effects on aging.

The observation that KLF levels decrease with age and that sustained levels of KLFs can prevent the age-associated loss of blood vessel function is intriguing given that vascular dysfunction contributes significantly to diverse age-associated conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and dementia.

KLF proteins work by controlling autophagy — a recycling process cells use to clear debris, including normal molecular byproducts that build up in old age. Loss of this quality control mechanism is a hallmark of aging. Worms without KLF proteins cannot maintain autophagy and die early.

According to the researchers, the next step will be to study the precise mechanisms underlying how autophagy in cells lining blood vessels contributes to improved blood vessel function. They will also seek strategies to target KLF proteins in humans.


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