The mechanism which controls ageing was discovered. For now, it was located in the brain of a mouse, but its manipulations allowed extending and shortening the life of a mouse in a controlled manner. People are watching this with hope.
The regulator of ageing processes is located in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain responsible for controlling the body’s involuntary reactions, the hormone levels, the sleep and awakeness cycle or work of the immune system – as is reported by the Nature journal.
While testing the influence of the brain on the ageing processes, a team of scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York noted that the organisms of ageing mice produce large amounts of the so-called NF-kB protein. It occurs in almost all animal cells and is involved in the cellular response to stimuli, such as stress, cytokines, free radicals, ultraviolet or antigens. It also plays an important role in regulating the immune response to infection. Disorders in the production of this protein are associated with cancer, inflammations and autoimmune diseases, septic shock, viral infections and inappropriate development of the immune system. Scientists were wondering what would happen if the amount of this protein in mice was artificially changed. In one group, they increased the production of the NF-kB, in the second, they inhibited its production, and mice in the third group were left as they were in order to have a comparative material. The latter group lived, as expected, 600-1000 days, that is, it reached a standard age of elderly mouse. Mice with increased level of the protein survived 900 days, on average. Those which had its level reduced became – for animal scale – the real methuselahs: they lived even 1100 days. Additionally, they were clearly in a better physical and mental condition than their friends which aged naturally. The analysis of their bones and muscles showed that they were in a much better shape, too.
Scientists believe that this effect is related to the function of the NF-kB protein, which in regulating the puberty: it restricts the level of hormone responsible for this, secreted by the hypothalamus, which “winds up” our maturity and fertility. According to the model proposed by the researchers, the less the NF-kB, the more the hormone which makes mice live and be fertile for a longer time there is. There were also similar observations involving humans: studies were conducted in Sardinia on a population of women who give birth to children even at the age of 45. Typically, they lived to be one hundred in good health. They all had an increased level of the “hypothalamic hormone”.
Is this how we discovered the elixir of life and youth? It is hard to say now. Surely, there is no easy way for manipulating substances secreted by the brain, for they are a part of a very complex system of interrelations. And by gaining something in one place, we can lose a lot in another (even though the long-living mice did not seem to have any side effects). However, it certainly is another small step forward in our eternal struggle with old age. Will we finally win? Time will tell…