UCLA biologists have identified a gene that can slow the aging process throughout the entire body when activated remotely in key organ systems. Working with fruit flies, the life scientists activated a gene called AMPK that is a key energy sensor in cells; it is activated when cellular energy levels are low. Increasing the amount of AMPK (image of AMPK protein) in fruit flies' intestines increased their lifespans by about 30 percent — to roughly eight weeks from the typical six — and the flies stayed healthier longer as well. The research, published online on September 4, 2014 in the open-source journal Cell Reports, could have important implications for delaying aging and disease in humans, said Dr. David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research. "We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," Dr. Walker said. Dr. Walker noted that the findings are important because extending the healthy life of humans would presumably require protecting many of the body's organ systems from the ravages of aging — but delivering anti-aging treatments to the brain or other key organs could prove technically difficult. The study suggests that activating AMPK in a more accessible organ such as the intestine, for example, could ultimately slow the aging process throughout the entire body, including the brain. Humans have AMPK, but it is usually not activated at a high level, Dr. Walker said.
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