The SIRT3 gene, belonging to the sirtuin family, protects cells from damage due to oxidative stress – a natural by-product of cell function. Researchers increased SIRT3 levels in blood stem cells and found this rejuvenated the stem cells, improving their ability to generate blood cells.
Dr Danica Chen, who led the study at the University of California, Berkeley, USA said: 'We already know that sirtuins regulate ageing, but our study is really the first one demonstrating that sirtuins can reverse ageing-associated degeneration'.
The production of sirtuins by cells decreases with time, leaving them more exposed to oxidative stress and contributing to the process of ageing. Dr Chen's group compared blood stem cells from young and old mice. They showed that restoring SIRT3 production in the stem cells from aged mice turned back their 'molecular clock' and increased their ability to produce new blood cells.
Researchers hope to apply these findings to better understand the aging process: 'Studies have already shown that even a single gene mutation can lead to lifespan extension. The question is whether we can understand the process well enough so that we can actually develop a molecular fountain of youth. Can we actually reverse aging? This is something we're hoping to understand and accomplish', stated Dr Chen.
Such research may also prove useful in treating disease. Katharine Brown, co-lead author of the study at the University of California, Berkeley highlighted the potential therapeutic benefits of SIRT3: 'Other researchers have demonstrated that SIRT3 acts as a tumour suppressor. This is promising because, ideally, one would want a rejuvenative therapy where you could increase a protein's expression without increasing the risk of diseases like cancer'.
Dr Chen concluded that the research 'opens the door to potential treatments for age-related degenerative diseases'.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.