Microscopic worms used for scientific research are living longer despite cellular defects, a discovery that is shedding light on how the human body ages and how doctors could one day limit or reverse genetic mutations that cause inherited diseases, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.
In the first formal study of its kind, researchers manipulated the metabolic state of genetically engineered lab worms called C. elegans and discovered a window of high-efficiency cellular processing that enabled the worms to slow their rate of aging. The findings could one day contribute to the creation of gene therapies to reverse or lessen the effects of mitochondrial diseases, the largest family of human genetic diseases, said lead study author Shane Rea of CU-Boulder's Institute for Behavioral Genetics.
Diseases labeled as mitochondrial are those that affect the mitochondria, the membrane-enclosed power sources present in all cells, Rea said. Researchers believe their insights might find application in treating diseases linked to mitochondrial dysfunction such as Huntington's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
"We appear to have found a window where life is able to preserve itself even better than when operating in the absence of any cellular defects," said Rea. "It's a metabolic state where cells are probably getting close to the best they can be for long life and good health."
Pioneering CU-Boulder worm researcher and Professor Thomas E. Johnson and the University of Rome's Natascia Ventura co-authored the study. Grants from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies funded the research. The findings will appear in the Oct. 2 edition of the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Biology.
Rea, who will continue his research at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio later this year, said the study validates the worm model for research into the causes of human aging and disea
|Contact: Shane Rea|
University of Colorado at Boulder