A new paper by MDI Biological Laboratory scientists Jarod Rollins, Ph.D., and Aric Rogers, Ph.D., co-corresponding authors, describes the mechanisms by which longevity is regulated post-transcriptionally, or after a genetic blueprint has been transcribed from an organism's DNA. The identification of these mechanisms will serve as a road map for screening new, more specific drugs to prolong healthy lifespan.
The research was conducted in C. elegans, a tiny nematode worm that is a popular model in aging research because of its genetic similarity to humans and because of its short lifespan, which allows scientists to easily study lifespan-extending interventions.
The paper, "Dietary Restriction Induces Post-transcriptional Regulation of Longevity Genes," which was recently published in the journal Life Science Alliance, is the product of five years of research in the Rollins and Rogers laboratories.
The scientists used bioinformatics, or data analysis, techniques to compare genes in worms fed normal diets with those whose diets were restricted. Dietary restriction, or DR, which refers to calorie restriction without malnutrition, is the most robust intervention known for extending lifespan, and has been demonstrated to increase lifespan and delay the onset of age-related degenerative disease in a wide range of species, from one-celled yeasts to primates.
The scientific evidence on the lifespan-prolonging effects of DR has ignited a quest to develop "DR mimetics," or drugs that mimic the effects of DR without the need to dramatically reduce calories. In addition to being difficult to adhere to, such a diet is associated with negative side effects including increased sensitivity to cold and loss of energy and libido. The identification of these new mechanisms opens up the possibility of developing new, more precise DR mimetics.
In addition to confirming existing theories about the adaptive response to DR, the paper highlights the importance of post-transcriptional regulation -- or regulation that occurs after a gene has been "read" or "transcribed" from the DNA in the nucleus of the cell. The identification of the mechanisms that govern post-transcriptional levels of gene expression charts a pathway for screening, or testing, drugs that may have pro-longevity effects.