As we grow older, not only the function of organs slows down. Also, on a cellular level, more and more damage occurs. One reason is that DNA errors accumulate which cause defective cells. Now a team of researchers led by Dr. Nils-Göran Larsson at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne has shown that aging is determined not only by the accumulation of DNA damage that occurs during lifetime but also by damage that we acquire from our mothers. In a study in mice, the researchers have shown that mutations of maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA influence the offspring’s aging process starting from birth. The results were published online in Nature on August 21, 2013. Aging is a complex process, in the course of which more and more damage accumulates within the body’s tissues, cells, and molecules – with serious consequences: organs lose their function and mortality risk increases. Why some people age faster than others has many reasons that are still unsolved. However, damage that occurs within the mitochondria – the cell’s powerhouses – seems to be of particular importance for aging. “The mitochondrion contains its own DNA, the so-called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA, which changes faster than the DNA in the nucleus, and this has a significant impact on the aging process,” says Dr. Larsson, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging in Cologne and scientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Together with Dr. Lars Olson, also a scientist at the Karolinska Institute, he led the study. “Many mutations in the mitochondria gradually disable the cell’s energy production.” Contrary to previous findings, not only mutations that accumulate during lifetime play a role: “Surprisingly, we discovered that our mother’s mitochondrial DNA seems to influence our own aging,” says Dr.
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