Breakthrough discovery may hold the key to improving quality of life as people age

Jul 09, 2024
In light of the findings, researchers hope to prevent diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer's disease, metabolic liver disorders and stroke. Source: Alan Porritt/AAP PHOTOS.

Australian researchers believe they have uncovered the “master controller” of the ageing process, potentially opening the door to improving quality of life as people age.

Led by Dr Christian Nefzger in conjunction with 15 Australian laboratories including Monash University and the University of Melbourne, the study decoded the role genes play in determining how people mature as they age which has largely remained unknown.

As part of the study, researchers analysed people and mice, comparing different age groups over time, and investigating the activity of genes involved in both the developmental and ageing processes.

“Master controller genes regulate which genes are turned on or off in each of our cells, making sure that each cell does its specific job, just as a conductor directs musicians to produce different sounds,” Dr Nefzger said.

“We followed the activity of the master regulator activator protein 1 or AP-1 and found that it progressively activated adult genes, whilst the activity of ‘early-life’ genes involved in development were dialled down, and this process was shared across cell types.”

The study also found that AP-1 was activated by a number of stress and inflammatory processes as well as by a protein in blood that increases with age. By identifying the AP-1 as a master controller of ageing, researchers now hope to study the effects of drugs that could reduce its activity in order to extend quality of life.

Dr Nefzger said the goal is to prevent diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic liver disorders and stroke from escalating or occurring in the first place by targeting the underlying ageing process to allow people to grow older in better health.

In addition to the latest findings, researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute potentially unearthed another secret to maintaining healthy ageing, buried deep within our body’s cells.

In groundbreaking findings, Associate Professor Steven Zuryn and Dr. Michael Dai uncovered the role of a protein called ATSF-1 in maintaining the delicate balance between generating fresh mitochondria and restoring damaged ones.

Mitochondria, which possess their own DNA, are responsible for producing cellular energy but also generate harmful by-products that impact the ageing process of cells.

Zuryn explained that “in conditions of stress when mitochondrial DNA has been damaged, the ATSF-1 protein prioritises repair which promotes cellular health and longevity.”

Zuryn further highlighted the “exciting implications” that their findings hold for maintaining optimal health well into old age.

“We studied ATFS-1 in C. elegans, or round worms and saw that enhancing its function promoted cellular health, meaning the worms became more agile for longer,” he said.

“They didn’t live longer, but they were healthier as they aged.

“Mitochondrial dysfunction lies at the core of many human diseases, including common age-related diseases such as dementias and Parkinson’s.

“Our finding could have exciting implications for healthy ageing and for people with inherited mitochondrial diseases.”

-with AAP.





Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up