BOSTON May 1, 2012 Scientists at Joslin Diabetes Center have identified a key mechanism of action for the TOR (target of rapamycin) protein kinase, a critical regulator of cell growth which plays a major role in illness and aging. This finding not only illuminates the physiology of aging but could lead to new treatments to increase lifespan and control age-related conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegeneration.
Over the past decade, studies have shown that inhibiting TOR activity, which promotes cell growth by regulating protein synthesis, increases lifespan in a variety of species including flies and mice; in recent years research has focused on uncovering the precise mechanisms underlying this effect. The Joslin study, published in the May 2 issue of Cell Metabolism, reports that TOR has a direct impact on two master gene regulator proteins SKN-1 and DAF-16 which control genes that protect against environmental, metabolic and proteotoxic stress. The TOR kinase acts in two signaling pathways, TORC1 and TORC2. When TORC1 is inhibited, SKN-1 and DAF-16 are mobilized, leading to activation of protective genes that increase stress resistance and longevity. This new finding was demonstrated in experiments with C. elegans, a microscopic worm used as a model organism, but activation of protective genes was also observed in mice. Most findings in C. elegans have turned out to be applicable to mice and humans.
"We uncovered a critical mechanism in the relationship between TOR and aging and disease. There is a homeostatic relationship between protein synthesis and stress defenses: when protein synthesis is reduced, stress defenses increase," says lead author T. Keith Blackwell, MD, PhD, co-head of the Joslin Islet Cell & Regenerative Biology Section and Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. The Blackwell lab studies the aging process and how it is influenced by insulin and other metabol
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Joslin Diabetes Center