Scientists at the Max-Planck-Research Group on Stem Cell Aging at Ulm University have discovered a protein biomarker which indicates the general length of an organism’s telomerases, in essence indicating one’s biological age. Though not directly linked to chronological age, we envision the new knowledge may see use in identifying the ages of future female Olympic gold medal gymnasts.
The scientists took a very close look at the end pieces of human chromosomes, called telomeres. These are needed to keep the chromosome stable and, at the same time, to safeguard it. However, they are shortened by 50 to 200 base pairs every time the cell divides – in the course of aging, they become so short that they lose their protective function. As a result, the chromosomes become unstable and the cell irreversibly loses its ability to divide. Scientists have now been able to show that this is one cause of cell aging.
Rudolph and Jiang discovered that the shortening of the telomeres and DNA damage, which they brought about through radiation in their study, led to an overlapping reaction in the human cells. In both cases the affected cells release marker proteins. “One interesting observation was that the same proteins can be measured in human blood and that a significant increase can be shown to be associated with aging and age-related diseases,” Rudolph sums up.
The results of their work not only provide meaningful markers for biological aging, but also corroborate the DNA damage hypothesis for human aging. The Max Planck researchers are hoping that their biomarkers will be of use in medical applications, which will make it possible to adapt therapies individually to patients’ biological age and thus achieve better results. There is, however, even more to the biomarkers, as Rudolph explains: “They could also be used to test behavioural intervention, food supplements and pharmacological therapies to delay the aging processes.”
Press release: Biomarkers reveal our biological age
Image: The telomeres (dyed red) form the end pieces of the chromosomes. As they age, they become shorter and some chromosomes eventually lose their ends completely. As a result, the cells are no longer able to divide.