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Newly Discovered Proteins Key to Fighting Effects of Aging

Posted on Oct. 18, 2016, 6 a.m. in Anti-Aging Research Science Alzheimer's Disease Parkinsons Disease

Protein found in the mitochondria may be the key to controlling aging, as well as treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

As our bodies age, cell tissue becomes damaged and for some people a slow cognitive decline is unavoidable. Cognitive functions affected include memory and multitasking. Cell damage can lead to debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Aging coincides with a loss of muscle mass which saps energy and is noticeable by middle age, becoming more pronounced heading into retirement. However, there is more hope today, as scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered new proteins that could hold far-reaching implications in the science of Gerontology. The research published in the journal Aging could lead to new class of drugs designed to combat the debilitating effects of age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, and even aging itself.

Target the Proteins to Slow Down the Aging Process

The research centered on a class of proteins (carbonic anhydrase) that are located in the cells mitochondria, which processes oxygen we breath and then converts it to energy. Lead researcher Doctor Lisa Chakrabarti is excited about the progress being made, saying they think they understand the role the protein plays in the cell's aging process. The goal now is to find the best way to target the protein inside the mitochondria to slow down the aging process in the human body, while limiting any harmful side effects. She says this research could open new possibilities in targeting many degenerative diseases, as well as other aging effects in the body.

The scientists used a special process to separate the proteins from within the mitochondria of muscle and brain cells from young and middle-aged people. After comparing samples from the both groups, they discovered that these proteins were in greater quantities in brain samples from:

  • middle aged people who were aging normally
  • younger people suffering from age-related symptoms

Proteins Shorten Lives of Tiny Nematode Worms
Since these results were not fully understood, the scientists turned their research on nematode worms (Caenorhabditis Elegans) which are only 1 millimeter lengthwise. They discovered that feeding the proteins to these tiny worms shortened their life spans. This was seen as evidence as to why the carbonic anhydrase proteins in the human samples were so high in those people suffering age degeneration.

The researchers are now trying to identify which chemical compounds could be effective in targeting the proteins responsible for accelerated aging in the experiments on the worms. This study is a first step in what could lead to the development of new age-fighting drugs that specifically target carbonic anhydrase proteins inside the mitochondria of cells in the human body. We may be getting closer to halting the progressive effects of aging and age-related diseases.

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The three-year project was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) through its Doctoral Training Programme support for Amelia Pollard.

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