Healthcare

Study reveals ‘master controller’ gene in cellular ageing

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Scientists at the University of Queensland have found a key player in how our bodies age. This discovery might help us stay healthier as we get older.

Dr Christian Nefzger and his team looked at how genes work in both people and mice as they age. They found a protein called AP-1 that acts like a ‘master controller’ in our cells.

Dr Nefzger said that until now the process of how genes change activity from birth to adulthood and into old age was largely unknown.

“By analysing molecular datasets from both people and mice and then comparing different age groups over time, we investigated the activity of genes involved in both developmental and ageing processes,” Dr Nefzger said.

“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.

The team noticed that AP-1 turns on more “adult” genes as we age, while turning down genes that were important when we were young. This happens in many different types of cells in our body.

Dr Marina Naval-Sanchez said this process keeps going even when we’re adults. “It was ongoing in adulthood, likely because AP-1 is also activated by a number of stress and inflammatory processes as well as by a protein in our blood that increases with age,” Dr Naval-Sanchez said.

“This further dampens genes most active early in life, which may drive many of the predictable changes of ageing.”

Scientists think this discovery could lead to new ways to fight age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s or stroke. Dr Ralph Patrick suggested that drugs targeting AP-1 might help people stay healthier for longer.

Dr Nefzger said the goal is to prevent diseases of ageing from escalating or occurring in the first place by targeting the underlying ageing process to allow people to grow older in better healthcare.

This study involved more than 15 Australian laboratories and international collaboration. It was funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and IMB.

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