Researchers Unlock How to Repair Aging Cells

Shelby Rogers

Scientists with Caltech and UCLA developed a way to manipulate our DNA and effectively replace aging cells in our body.

The study manipulates the cell's mitochondria - the energy unit and warehouse for our cells. Aging happens when the DNA strands start to break down and mutate. Mitochondria don't always repair DNA like we hope.

mitochondria[Image courtesy of National Human Genome Research Institute/CCO]

Senior postdoc scholar Nikolay Kandul led the team to remove the mutated DNA from the mitochondria completely. Hundreds of mitochondria exist in each cell. Each mitochondrion carries a small bit of DNA genome called mtDNA. mtDNA often builds up in the cells and in two versions - normal mtDNA and mutant mtDNA. At a certain mtDNA threshold, the cells can't function and die.

"We know that increased rates of mtDNA mutation cause premature aging," said Bruce Hay, Caltech professor of biology and biological engineering. "This, coupled with the fact that mutant mtDNA accumulates in key tissues such as neurons and muscle that lose function as we age, suggests that if we could reduce the amount of mutant mtDNA, we could slow or reverse important aspects of aging."

The operation manipulates our cells autophagy, or ability to eat itself. If autophagy sounds familiar to you, it's because the subject won the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year. While the Nobel-winning study expanded our knowledge of the process, the Caltech-UCLA study clarified whether autophagy could selectively eliminate aging DNA.

The study notes that mutant mtDNA over a lifetime contributes to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, age-related muscle loss, and Parkinson's. Studies have also linked inherited mtDNA problems to childhood conditions like autism. The most common issue related with mtDNA buildup, however, comes as premature aging.

The researchers genetically manipulated a common fruit fly so that 75 percent of the mtDNA (what contributes to the fly's muscles for flight) got mutated early in adulthood. The team discovered increasing the activity of mitophagy led to a reduction of mtDNA in the fly's muscle cells.

SEE ALSO: And the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to... Cannibalism?

"Such a decrease would completely eliminate any metabolic defects in these cells, essentially restoring them to a more youthful, energy-producing state," said Hay. "The experiments serve as a clear demonstration that the level of mutant mtDNA can be reduced in cells by gently tweaking normal cellular processes."

The full study can be read in Nature Communications.

For a simple explanation as to why we age in the first place, check out the video from AsapSCIENCE below:

Via Caltech News

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