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Key to longer life (in flies) lies in just 14 brain cells
Date:9/20/2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- Two years ago, Brown University researchers discovered something startling: Decrease the activity of the cancer-suppressing protein p53 and you can make fruit flies live significantly longer.

Now the same team reports an intriguing follow-up finding. The p53 protein, they found, may work its lifespan-extending magic in only 14 insulin-producing cells in the fly brain.

Its quite surprising, said Johannes Bauer, a postdoctoral research fellow at Brown. In the fruit fly brain, there are tens of thousands of cells. But we found that it takes a reduction of p53 activity in only 14 of those brain cells to extend lifespan. It was like finding a needle in the haystack a very small needle at that.

Bauer is the lead author of the research report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Brown biology professor Stephen Helfand, senior scientist on the project, will discuss the findings in his keynote address at the Gordon Research Conferences on the Biology of Aging, to be held Sept. 23-28, 2007, in Les Diablerets, Switzerland.

P53 is sometimes called guardian of the genome for defending cells against DNA damage. Not enough of the protein can cause cancer; too much, however, can shorten lifespan. But in 2005, Helfand and his lab showed that a targeted decrease of p53 in fruit flies a decrease specifically in their brain cells allowed flies to live healthy lives that were as much as 58 percent longer.

But how, exactly, does p53 do its work in the brain" To find out, Bauer spent a year conducting painstaking experiments. Hed take a batch of young flies, each genetically altered to reduce p53 activity in a small portion of their nervous systems, and watch the flies age. Time and again, the flies lived for about two months the average lifespan for these insects.

But when Bauer manipulated a cluster of 14 insulin-producing cells in their brains, the flies l
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Contact: Wendy Lawton
Wendy_Lawton@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

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