The researchers used these mice to make several unexpected discoveries. First, the group was able to track the accumulation of senescent cells in aging mice by assessing how brightly each mouse glowed. Surprisingly, the brightest animals were no more likely to die from spontaneous cancer than dimmer animals of the same age. That is, the number of senescent cells in the mouse did not predict its risk of dying.
"The result we, and I think others, predicted is that the animals with the highest number of senescent cells would get more cancers and die sooner, but this was not the case" said Sharpless.
Another surprise came from the disparities in p16 levels among the mice. The authors studied a large group of genetically identical animals that were all housed in the same way and fed the same diet. However, despite identical genetic and environmental conditions, the brightness of individual mice at any given age was highly variable, suggesting that factors beyond genetics and diet influence aging.
The glowing mice also provide a window into the formation of cancers. Expression of p16 is activated in the earliest stages of cancer formation to suppress cancer. Usually activation of p16 prevents cancer, but rarely this tumor suppressor mechanism fails and tumors develop, while still activating the p16 gene. As such, all tumors forming in these mice strongly glowed, allowing researchers to monitor early tumor formation in a wide variety of cancer types. In contrast to expectations, the researchers also found that p16 was activated not only in the tumor cells themselves, but also in normal, neighboring cells.
"This finding su
|Contact: William Davis|
University of North Carolina Health Care