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Scientists discover molecular 'switch' that contributes to cellular aging process
Date:11/30/2010

Boston, MA A team of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) scientists report finding a molecular "switch" that can "turn off" some cellular processes that are protective against aging and metabolic diseases. While more research is needed, the findings may open doors for new drug treatments to halt or slow development of metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes or heart disease. The research findings appear in the December 1, 2010 issue of Cell Metabolism.

Scientists want to better understand why some people often those who are older, overweight, or obese develop metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by a group of risk factors, including high blood glucose, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, fatty liver, and increased abdominal fat. This condition increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases, including cancer.

Using genetically altered mouse models, senior author Chih-Hao Lee, assistant professor of genetics and complex diseases at HSPH, first author Shannon Reilly, an HSPH graduate student, and their colleagues focused on the role of the protein SMRT (silencing mediator of retinoid and thyroid hormone receptors) in the aging process. They found aged cells accumulate more SMRT and wanted to see if SMRT increases the damaging effects of oxidative stress on mitochondria, the cell component that converts food and oxygen into energy and powers metabolic activities. Oxidative stress is a cellular process that damages DNA, protein, and other cell functions and can lead to age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and atherosclerosis.

In laboratory experiments, Reilly, Lee, and colleagues found that in older animals SMRT acts like a "switch," turning off the protective cellular activities of proteins known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). PPARs help regulate genes that promote fat burning to maintain lipid (blood fat) balance and reduce oxid
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Contact: Marjorie Dwyer
mhdwyer@hsph.harvard.edu
617-384-8995
Harvard School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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