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Genetic Research

Anti-Ageing Gene Found

13 years, 10 months ago

2199  0
Posted on Oct 03, 2005, 1 p.m. By Bill Freeman

A gene which appears to be a
A gene which appears to be a “master control gene for the skin” may hold the key to youth, suggests a new study in mice. The finding could lead to breakthroughs in anti-ageing strategies, skin care and even chemotherapy.

The gene p63, a sister gene to the cancer suppressing p53 gene, was found to accelerate ageing in adult mice when it was “switched off” by researchers. Mice which had the gene completely switched off using a sophisticated genetic technique, suffered premature ageing. Symptoms included becoming hunchbacked, losing hair and losing weight. Loss of p63 also cut short their lives – by about 23% – compared with mice with normal p63 expression.

The gene may shed light on understanding the ageing process, says Alea Mills, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, US, who led the study. “I absolutely think it will be key in trying to understand what to avoid,” she says, for example in investigating the link between UV light and ageing.

The finding may also help scientists understand and, in the future, treat ageing caused by some medical treatments. “Certain chemotherapy has a really striking effect on the skin and features of accelerated ageing, such as hair loss. Some of these treatments are probably impacting on the p63 pathway,” she notes.

“There might be great things we can do to keep our skin looking healthy and young looking,” she told New Scientist. But she cautions that previous studies have shown that too much p63 can lead to cancer, so a “fine balance” needs to be struck.

The gene is structurally similar to p53, which is a crucial gene in suppressing cancer. A loss of p53 can lead to the development of tumours. Mills and her team initially set out to see what happened to mice deficient in p63 – with one good and one defective copy of the gene – as they aged. They suspected they might suffer more tumours, but found none. “There aren't tumours, but they aged prematurely,” she told New Scientist.

They then developed a way of completely shutting down the gene in specific tissues, such as the skin, of adult mice. This caused specific features of accelerated ageing. Mills says the p63 gene is very similar between humans and mice. “We think that p63 is likely to play a fundamental role in maintaining human skin as well.” She says the team would like to examine how p63 expression changes during normal human ageing.

Journal reference: Genes and Development (advance online publication) [New Scientist]

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