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Recruitment of reproductive features into other cell types may underlie extended lifespan in animals
Date:6/7/2009

In the sense that organisms existing today are connected through a chain of life through their parents, grandparents and other ancestors almost a billion years back to the first animals of the pre-Cambrian era, an animal's reproductive cells can be considered to be immortal. These germline cells generate their offspring's somatic cells other cells involved in all aspects of growth, metabolism and behavior, which have a set lifespan and new germline cells that continue on, generation after generation.

Now in a dramatic finding, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Molecular Biology have found that certain genetic mutations known to extend the lifespan of the C. elegans roundworm induce 'mortal' somatic cells to express some of the genes that allow the 'immortality' of reproductive germline cells. Their report will appear in the journal Nature and is receiving advance online release.

"C. elegans mutants with extreme longevity accomplish this feat, in part, by adopting genetic programs normally restricted to the germline into somatic cells," says Sean Curran, PhD, of MGH Molecular Biology, the study's lead author. "We know that germline cells are more stable than somatic cells they live longer and are more resistant to stresses that damage other cells and understanding the molecular pathways involved in that stability may someday allow us to devise therapies protective against age-related decline in other tissues."

Curran is a research fellow in the laboratory of MGH investigator Gary Ruvkun, PhD, whose work focuses on the development, longevity and metabolism of C. elegans, a tiny worm broadly used as a model for studying basic biological systems. Ruvkun and other researchers discovered that simple mutations in genetic pathways conserved throughout evolution can double or triple the lifespan of C. elegans, and that similar mutations in the corresponding path
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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