Washington D.C. : Recently discovered genetic switches that increase lifespan and boost fitness in worms are now being linked to increased lifespan in mammals and are offering hope that drugs to flip these switches could improve human metabolic function.
These so-called epigenetic switches are enzymes that are ramped up after mild stress during early development and continue to affect the expression of genes throughout the animal’s life.
When the researchers looked at strains of inbred mice that have radically different lifespans, those with the longest lifespans had significantly higher expression of these enzymes than did the short-lived mice.
Researcher Andrew Dillin said that two of the enzymes they discovered are highly, highly correlated with lifespan; it is the biggest genetic correlation that has ever been found for lifespan in mice, and they’re both naturally occurring variants.
He added that based on what they see in worms, boosting these enzymes could reprogram a person’s metabolism to create better health, with a possible side effect of altering lifespan.
These are the first epigenetic modifiers known to affect metabolic function and longevity though others are known to affect either metabolism or lifespan.
The study appears in the Journal Cell.