UPDATE – LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Researchers at the EPFL in Lausanne have shown that some common antibiotics increase longevity, with improved fitness and energy, in simple worms. The work, under the direction of Johan Auwerx, who holds the Nestlé metabolic energy chair at the university, offers promise for new research into solutions to human diseases related to aging.
The team also carried out experiments with resveratrol and rapamycin, but the results were less impressive than with the antibiotics, and a contradiction was discovered in the results. Resveratrol is famously found in red wine. Research showing a possible link to longevity sparked two decades of research into the “French paradox”, with the wine industry and health buffs alike touting the idea that wine improves longevity. The results have been controversial over the years.
Earlier work by Auwerx and others, in 2006, showed that resveratrol improved mitochondrial function, but some of the results were challenged in 2011.
Auwerx and his colleagues suggest that their results show further research is needed to determine why both the antibiotics, which reduce respiration, and resveratrol, which increases it, appear linked to longevity, with respiration as a factor.
The EPFL work was published 22 May in the journal Nature.
Update, Thursday 15:30 – EPFL has now published its press release, with more details, on its site
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Auwerx says that the group earlier identified MRPs (mitochondrial ribosomal protein), a protein family “as key determinants of longevity” in mice. The team, part of the Integrative Systems Physiology Laboratory at the EPFL, has been developing, over several years, a genetic reference population of mice to study aging.
When the expression of the proteins is reduced by about 50 percent, says Auwerx, the mouse’s lifespan increases. Mitochondria are the power centres of our cells and there is evident they evolved from bacteria. The group decided to work with drugs on the market that are used to fight bacteria in order to stress the cells and thus reduce the protein expressions.
“Based on this observation, we switched models.” The team began to study the effects of reducing the protein’s expression in worms by using common antibiotics and discovered that lifespan increased by about 60 percent. “They were not only living longer, but they moved better, were more fit.”
The abstract in Nature notes that “in addition, resveratrol and rapamycin, longevity compounds acting on different molecular targets, similarly induced mitonuclear protein imbalance, the mitochondrial unfolded protein response and lifespan extension.”
The authors argue that “MRPs represent an evolutionarily conserved protein family that ties the mitochondrial ribosome and mitonuclear protein imbalance to the mitochondrial unfolded protein response, an overarching longevity pathway across many species.”
In other words, these energetic little worms are giving us clues to how human livespans might be extended, with greater fitness. It’s not so much a question of arriving at the fountain of youth as finding ways to help people who are weaker and whose lives are shortened due to disease.