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Stem cells for eggs and sperm also control aging in roundworm

The raw material for each generation -- the pool of stem cells that gives rise to eggs and sperm -- also controls the rate of aging into adulthood, UCSF scientists have found in research on the roundworm C. elegans. The unsuspected role may find parallels in other organisms including humans, they suggest.

The finding shows for the first time that genes act in the adult animal to control its rate of aging. The stem cells, it seems, can modify lifespan even as aging is proceeding.

The key stem cells, the scientists found, are not those that actually become egg or sperm, but their sister cells from the same stem cell pool, known as "proliferating germline stem cells," that divide continuously in the animals reproductive tissues.

"Now we know that these proliferating stem cells are master control cells, sitting at the top of the paths that affect both reproduction and aging," said Cynthia Kenyon, PhD, the Herbert Boyer Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF.

The research, coupled with other findings, indicates that the pool of egg and sperm precursor stem cells affects lifespan by influencing a steroid hormone. If a hormone is found to affect human aging as well, it could make a likely target for drugs to prolong life, the researchers speculate.

The dual stem cell influence over both reproduction and aging suggests that the relationship may have evolved to assure animals reproduce while they are still young, according to the scientists.

Their study is reported in the January 18 issue of the journal Science.

Lead author is Nuno Arantes-Oliveira, a graduate student in Kenyons lab.

In the last few years, Kenyons research group has identified several genes in C. elegans that dramatically affect aging, and has zeroed in on the reproductive system as one source of signals that control the lifespan.

Three years ago the lab reported that signals from the germline the source of sperm and eggs
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Contact: Wallace Ravven
wravven@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
17-Jan-2002


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