LITTLE ROCK – Researchers at the
Reported in the February 2008 issue of the journal Aging Cell, the discovery was made by a team of researchers headed by Robert Shmookler Reis, professor in the UAMS Departments of Geriatrics, Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and Pharmacology/Toxicology and research scientist at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. To view the article, visit www.uams.edu/update/news/aging_cell.pdf.
C. elegans are barely visible to the eye but are helping scientists unravel the causes of aging and understand what determines life span, Reis said. During the past 15 years, more than 80 mutations have been found that extend life in C. elegans, including components of a worm signaling pathway (a set of genes that responds to signals from the environment or within the worm) that is equally related to insulin signaling and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) signaling in mammals.
Insulin alerts cells that there are nutrients in the blood ready to be used, whereas IGF-1 stimulates growth. Interfering with insulin signaling results in insulin resistance, a condition that can develop into diabetes. Interfering with IGF-1 signaling produces effects in mammals more akin to those seen in long-lived worms. Mice mildly deficient in IGF-1 receptor are long-lived and appear healthy, Reis said, adding that the longest-lived humans tend to have diminished IGF-1 signaling as well.
“These observations hint that processes discovered in the worm also are relevant to aging in humans,” Reis said, “but we shouldn’t expect exact parallels.”
Reis’ team discovered that a mutant in the insulin/ IGF-1 pathway of C. elegans slows development but ultimately produces adults he described as “super survivors,” able to resist levels of toxic chemicals that would kill an ordinary worm. Although the adult lifespan of C. elegans is normally only two to three weeks, half of the mutant worms were still alive after six months, with some surviving to nine months.
“We knew we had found something amazing,” said Srinivas Ayyadevara, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. “These worms continue to look and act like normal worms of one-tenth their age.”
Reis cautioned that the discovery does not mean that an 800-year human life span is just around the corner. “Worms have a short lifespan to begin with, so it seems to be relatively easy to prod them to live longer. Other mutations, which extend the life of C. elegans up to 2.5-fold, give a much smaller benefit in mice,” he said.
“The important thing is that we now have a pretty good idea of what we should try in order to increase mouse lifespan by 50 to 100 percent. We are on a path now that might lead to similar gains from a single genetic change or drug given to mice, and eventually to a treatment that could benefit humans.”
UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the
UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a northwest Arkansas regional campus; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,021 students, 789 medical residents and two dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.