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Can Aging Be Delayed Or Reversed? Study Examines Epigenetic Regulation

First Posted: May 26, 2015 04:34 PM EDT
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Have scientists discovered the Fountain of Youth? Well not quite yet. However, they're working on delaying the process of aging by reversing the regulation of two genes involved in the production of glycine, the smallest amino acid that is partly to blame for wrinkles and other unwanted traits.

Researchers made this discovery while debunking a popular theory on aging; the mitochondrial theory that proposes how age-associated mitochondrial DNA is one of our hallmarks of aging in many species, including humans. Mitochondrion are the referred to as the power-house of the cell, of course, so their role is pretty important. Damage to them can result in changes or even mutations in the DNA sequence... changes that may even result in a decreased lifespan, including the early onset of certain aging-related characteristics, like weight gain, hair loss, curvature of the spine and osteoporosis.

However, rather conflicting data doubts the validity of this theory, at least including the mutations part. 

New research has now led scientists to believe that age-associated mitochondrial defects are not controlled by the accumulation of mutations in the mitochondrial DNA but by another form of genetic regulation.

During a new study, researchers specifically looked at the function of mitochondria in human fibroblast cell lines that are derived from young and elderly participants. Then, they compared the mitochondrial respiration and the amount of DNA damage found in the mitochondria in both groups, with the expectation that the elderly group would have an increased rate of DNA damage. However, while they found increased respiration in the elderly group, there was no difference in the amount of DNA damage between the elderly and young group.

Further research revealed that that aging process in the mitochondrion is likely controlled by epigenetic regulation and not by mutations as once thought; these are changes, including the addition of chemical structures or proteins, which alter the physical structure of the DNA, causing some genes to turn on or off.

Lastly, researchers looked for genes that might be controlled epigenetically, resulting in age-associated mitochondrial defects. They specifically found two genes that regulate glycine production in the mitochondria, CGAT and SHMT2.

What makes the study particularly noteworthy is that the researchers discovered that the addition of glycine for 10 days to the culture medium of the 97 year old fibroblast cell line helped to restore respiratory function, suggesting that it Is possible to reverse age-associated respiration.

However, more studies will be needed to take a greater look at this link. Yet the question now is if epigenetic regulation can also control aging in humans.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via Nature's journal Scientific Reports.

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