Tags: Werner syndrome | progeria | aging | accelerated | WRN gene

Scientists Discover Secret to Keeping Cells Young

By    |   Friday, 01 May 2015 12:21 PM


Scientists studying Werner syndrome, the disease that causes accelerated aging, have found the key to the fountain of youth.

People with Werner syndrome, or adult progeria, age quickly, suffering gray hair, wrinkles, and osteoporosis in early adulthood, and most die in their late 40s or early 50s.

The disease is caused by a mutation in a gene known as the Werner syndrome RecQ helicase-like gene, or WRN gene. The WRN gene is in charge of copying DNA, repairing damaged DNA, and monitoring telomeres, which are the pieces of DNA located at the end of chromosomes that determine how long the cell lives.

Although scientists knew that the mutated DNA triggered aging, they didn't understand how the process worked. So researchers at the Salk Institute used cutting-edge gene-editing technology to remove the WRN gene from embryonic stem cells, the cells that can develop into any type of cell, and watched as the cells quickly aged.

They discovered that deleting the WRN gene caused the structure of heterochromatin, the tightly packed DNA found in a cell's nucleus, to become disorganized and less tightly packaged. The bundles of DNA function as a switchboard that directs genes' activity.

Chemical markers, known as epigenetic tags, are located on the outside of the heterochromatin bundles. Changes in the tags made by deleting the WRN gene alters the heterochromatin, causing genes to become active or to be silenced.

"Our findings show that the gene mutation that causes Werner syndrome results in the disorganization of heterochromatin, and that this disruption of normal DNA packaging is a key driver of aging," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a geneticist at the Salk Institute who was one of the lead authors of the study.

"This has implications beyond Werner syndrome, as it identifies a central mechanism of aging — heterochromatin disorganization — which has been shown to be reversible," he said.

"This begs the question of whether we can reverse these alterations — like remodeling an old house or car — to prevent, or even reverse, age-related declines and diseases."

The study, which was published in Science, was a collaboration between scientists at the Salk Institute and the Chinese Academy of Science.

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Scientists studying Werner syndrome, the disease that causes accelerated aging, have found the key to the fountain of youth. People with Werner syndrome, or adult progeria, age quickly, suffering gray hair, wrinkles, and osteoporosis in early adulthood, and most die in...
Werner syndrome, progeria, aging, accelerated, WRN gene
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2015-21-01
Friday, 01 May 2015 12:21 PM
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