Until 120

Scientists say key to aging discovered deep inside brain

Blocking protein in hypothalamus helps mice live longer, and could play a role in developing new drugs, researchers at Yeshiva University find

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

A lab mouse. (photo credit: Flash90)
A lab mouse. (photo credit: Flash90)

A group of American scientists believe they have unlocked the key to the aging process, hidden deep inside the brain.

The team from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine say that they were able to extend the lives of mice by up to 20% by teasing a small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus.

The researchers, who published their finding in the journal Nature on Wednesday, also found that they were able to keep the mice from suffering the debilitating effects of age, such as muscle weakness and memory problems.

“We’re very excited about this. It supports the idea that aging is more than a passive deterioration of different tissues. It is under control, and can be manipulated,” Dongsheng Cai, one of the lead researchers on the project, told the Guardian.

The team members believe their findings could have profound effects for the development of drugs that extend life or make the last years more comfortable.

Experimenting, the researchers found that inhibiting a protein complex called NF-kB allowed mice who normally live 600 to 1,000 days to reach the ripe old age of 1,100 days.

Conversely, activating the NF-kB pathway in the mice shortened their lifespan to less than 900 days.

“Scientists have long wondered whether aging occurs independently in the body’s various tissues or if it could be actively regulated by an organ in the body,” Cai said in a press release. “It’s clear from our study that many aspects of aging are controlled by the hypothalamus. What’s exciting is that it’s possible — at least in mice — to alter signaling within the hypothalamus to slow down the aging process and increase longevity.”

The scientists also found that pumping the gonadotropin-releasing hormone into the hypothalamus of a mouse delayed cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer or memory loss, as it aged.

The hypothalamus, about the size of the nut and located deep inside the brain, has previously been shown to be linked to growth, reproduction and weight gain or loss.

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