Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have identified a set of genes that act in muscles to modulate aging and resistance to stress in fruit flies.
Scientists have previously found mutations that extend fruit fly lifespan, but this group of genes is distinct because it acts specifically in muscles. The findings could help doctors better understand and treat muscle degeneration in human aging.
The results were published online this week by the journal Developmental Cell.
The senior author is Subhabrata Sanyal, PhD, assistant professor of cell biology at Emory University School of Medicine. The first author of the paper is postdoc Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer. Collaborators from Howard University and the University of Athens contributed to the paper.
Vrailas-Mortimer, Sanyal and colleagues started investigating a pair of genes called "p38 MAP kinase" in fruit flies with the expectation that they could play a role in learning and memory. Along the way, they discovered that mutations in these genes speed up the process of aging and make the flies more sensitive to oxidative stress.
"It was really just dumb luck, because we found a mutant that had almost completely lost gene activity, but had enough activity to be born," Sanyal says.
If both genes are defective in the same fly, the flies die very early. They begin to develop motor problems, becoming unable to fly and climb, a few days after birth. The mutant flies are also more sensitive to heat, being deprived of food and water, and exposure to oxidative stress. The researchers could correct the effects of the mutations by restoring the genes' activity in muscles, but not nerve cells.
"The experiment that made us nervous was when we asked whether having more p38 could increase lifespan," Sanyal says. "You can make flies sick and shorten their lives in a hundred different ways easily, but finding one gene that makes a big change in lif
|Contact: Holly Korschun|