Shanghai scientists have identified two novel anti-aging targeting genes in human brains that could provide insights into the clinical prevention and treatment of degenerative diseases.
A paper about the study was published on the website of British scientific journal Nature on Thursday.
The study was a joint collaboration by researchers from the Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology at the Institute of Neuroscience, the State Key Laboratory of Neuroscience Affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the CAS Key Laboratory of Molecular Virology and Immunology, and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai under the CAS.
The discovery was more than a decade in the making, with the team of Shanghai researchers having started with lab tests on C elegans, a worm species, 10 years ago. They later identified two genes that are the key pivots in the genome-wide network of interactions.
"We discovered that by decreasing the functions of the two genes, the levels of neurotransmitters in the elderly worms had increased significantly and thus delayed the degradation of behavioral functions during aging," said Cai Shiqing, the lead researcher on the team from the Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Subsequent studies found that the decrease of functions of the two genes in elderly mice had boosted their cognitive function and slowed down weight gain. Researchers also discovered that the expression of the two homologous genes in humans increase while aging and has a positive correlation with the progress of Alzheimer's disease.
"Such findings have led to a conclusion that the two genes we identified in human brains could be an important factor in regulating the aging process and the new anti-aging targeting genes," Cai said.
The researchers explained that the ability of such genes to change the aging process stems from regulating the function of mitochondria, an energy factory in cells. Decreased mitochondrial function during aging often results in tissue degradation.
Cai said that scientists around the world have identified more than 100 genes that could possibly extend lifespans, but only a few of them are likely to be related to healthy aging.
He added that the team will follow up on their research to see if certain small molecular compounds and lifestyles would have an impact on the regulation of the two anti-aging targeting genes.