Cracking the code to live longer may need a multi pronged approach as there appears to be no single magic down or up regulated gene or switch. In a study published in Nature Communications, a group of scientists have pooled the list of genes that change with age and have come up with the most complete list yet of genes involved in aging. Starting with a group of six European studies involving 14,983 people ranging in age from their 40s to 70s, they analyzed blood samples and documented which genes changed in activity—by turning on or off—over time. While previous studies compared the genes themselves to find out which genes differed among people who lived longer and those who did not, Andrew Johnson, the study’s senior author from the Division of Intramural Research at the National Health, Lung and Blood Institute, says they focused on the activity of the genes instead to get a better picture of which genes are changing with age. To measure that, they focused on RNA, the genetic product that our genes produce when they’re active.
“RNA is quite dynamic, since it’s responsive to processes in our tissues and cells,” he says. “If we get sick, say with the influenza virus, or, in this case, if we get old, and we’ve had a more challenging lifestyle or been exposed to things in the environment, our RNAs react and can be found at different levels.”
Indeed, what they found among the nearly 1,500 genes they identified this way as linked to aging were some that have already been known to contribute to the process, as well as new ones that open up novel research opportunities. Among these are genes associated with compounds, called glycosaminoglycans, that are involved in wound healing, healthy joints and nerve development. With age, these agents seem to decline. “There is evidence that maintaining the proper amount and type of glycosaminoglycans could be protective in aging,” says Johnson. “It hasn’t been an area of focus for aging research, but perhaps there are treatment implications there.”