Basic Yellow 1, a dye used in neuroscience laboratories around the world to detect damaged protein in Alzheimer's disease, turns out to be a wonder drug for nematode worms. In a study appearing in the March 30, online edition of Nature, the dye, also known as Thioflavin T (ThT) extended lifespan in healthy nematode worms by more than 50 percent and slowed the disease process in worms bred to mimic aspects of Alzheimer's. The research, conducted at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, could open new ways to intervene in aging and age-related disease. The study highlights a process called protein homeostasis – the ability of an organism to maintain the proper structure and balance of its proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Genetic studies have long indicated that protein homeostasis is a major contributor to longevity in complex animals. Many degenerative diseases have been linked to a breakdown in the process. Buck faculty member Dr. Gordon Lithgow, who led the research, said this study points to the use of compounds to support protein homeostasis, something that ThT, did as the worms aged. ThT works as a marker of neurodegenerative diseases because it binds amyloid plaques – the toxic aggregated protein fragments associated with Alzheimer's. In the nematodes ThT's ability to not only bind, but also slow the clumping of toxic protein fragments, may be key to the compound's ability to extend lifespan, according to Dr. Lithgow. "We have been looking for compounds that slow aging for more than ten years and ThT is the best we have seen so far," said Dr. Lithgow. "But more exciting is the discovery that ThT so dramatically improves nematode models of disease-related pathology as well," said Dr.
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