New aging theory finds dangers in gene deregulation

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Just as the deregulation of banks and businesses is believed to have contributed to the financial crisis, researchers at Harvard are saying the deregulation of certain genes leads to cell damage and aging.

While every gene we have is present in every cell in our bodies, most genes are "switched off," according to researchers. The primary function of genes called sirtuins is to keep these genes from switching "on." But they have another function: to repair damaged mitochondria caused by aging. The problem lies when too many sirtuins leave their "posts." They effectively deregulate the genes, which start turning on and causing irreparable damage, which contributes to the aging process.

Harvard researchers found that by injecting more sirtuins in lab mice, they could roll back some of this damage, and effectively extend the mouse's mean lifespan by 24% to 46%. Researchers hope that by finding ways to stabilize the distribution of sirtuins, they can protect against, and possibly even reverse, some of the processes of aging. Their full report appears in the November 28 issue of the journal Cell.