Proteins linked to cancer prevention in humans affect aging in worms

Novato, CA Proteins which prevent cancer in humans by ensuring that cells don't divide if they have chromosomal damage have been shown to determine lifespan in the nematode worm C. elegans. A Buck Institute study, appearing in the June 2nd issue of the journal Science, shows that checkpoint proteins, traditionally thought only to be functional in cells that divide, are also active in cells that no longer divide. The fact that the proteins appear to have dual functions opens a new way to study the connection between aging and cancer.

"Statistically, we know that aging is a huge risk factor for cancer," said Buck faculty member Gordon Lithgow, PhD, lead author of the study. "We don't know why that is. If we look at checkpoint proteins as a gear we've known for a long time that they drive the cancer gear, now we know that they also drive a longevity gear. This discovery has exciting potential as area of inquiry into a potential cellular link between aging and cancer."

The research carried out in the Buck Institute's Lithgow Laboratory, involved genetically eliminating checkpoint proteins in the microscopic worms. This caused a 15 30% increase in their lifespan. Given the role that checkpoint proteins play in preventing the development of cancer (or in encouraging it when the proteins are defective), the findings raise the question of whether genetic variations in checkpoint proteins in humans may place some individuals at risk for cancer, but protect them against other age-associated diseases; or conversely, set a genetic course for a shorter life which would be free from cancer.

The intriguing discovery came from ongoing work in the Lithgow lab, during a screening for genes that determine stress resistance and longevity in the worm, an animal which has about 18,000 genes and does not undergo cell division once it reaches maturity. Lead researcher Anders Olsen, PhD, found an unfamiliar gene during his screening. "I typed the DNA sequence int

Contact: Kris Rebillot
Buck Institute for Age Research

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