Harvard Gazette (February 9, 2011): The 'Core Pathway' of Aging

Publication Date: 
Wed, 02/09/2011

Scientists at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they have identified the root molecular cause of a variety of ills brought on by advanced age, including waning energy, failure of the heart and other organs, and metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

"What we have found is the core pathway of aging connecting several age-related biological processes previously viewed as independent of each other," said Ronald A. DePinho, senior author of a report online by the journal Nature. The first author, Ergun Sahin, is a member of the DePinho lab and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

DePinho, who is the director of the Dana-Farber's Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science and also a professor of medicine at HMS, said that although the studies were conducted in mice, "the findings bear strong relevance to human aging, as this core pathway can be directly linked to virtually all known genes involved in aging, as well as current targeted therapies designed to mitigate the toll of aging on health."

The scientists found that the basic cause of age-related health decline is malfunctioning telomeres - the end caps on cells' chromosomes that protect them against DNA damage. As cell reach their predetermined limit of times that they can divide, the telomeres become shortened and frayed, making the chromosomal ends vulnerable to increased rates of unrepaired DNA damage.