One of the key drivers behind aging – commonly viewed as the progressive decline in bodily function, which is closely linked to a variety of chronic diseases – is the accumulation of “senescent” cells in our tissues and organs.
The removal of poorly functioning cells has been shown to improve many features of aging in animals, such as the delayed onset of cataracts.
While scientists are still largely in the dark as to what makes our cells become senescent as we age, one recent suggestion has to do with the loss of ability to turn certain genes on or off at specific times and specific places.
Based on previous research, we know that more than 95 percent of our genes can actually make different types of messages depending on the needs of specific cells – a process enabled by a group of 300 proteins called “splicing factors”.
Researchers have demonstrated that as we age, we become less and less capable of producing these proteins, thereby losing our ability to regulate genes in response to environmental changes.
Now, a group of scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK have published a new study showing that exposing senescent cells to a chemical that releases small amounts of hydrogen sulphide cranks the production of certain splicing factors back up.
However, since the compound is toxic to us in large amounts, the research team needed a way to deliver it in appropriate concentration at specific sites.
“By using a “molecular postcode” we have been able to deliver the molecule directly to the mitochondria, the structures that produce energy in cells, where we think it acts, allowing us to use tiny doses, which are less likely to cause side effects”, wrote the researchers in an article for The Conversation.
Needless to say, clinical applications may be rather far down the road, but the research team is hopeful that similar tools may provide them with the opportunity to directly remove senescent cells from our bodies in the future.
Eventually, this could allow medical professionals to address a number of degenerative conditions head-on and with unprecedented levels of precision and effectiveness.
Source: study abstract, sciencealert.com.