Washington: UCLA life scientists including one of an Indian origin have identified a gene previously implicated in Parkinson`s disease that can delay the onset of ageing and extend the healthy life span of fruit flies.
The research, they said, could have important implications for ageing and disease in humans.
The gene, called parkin, serves at least two vital functions: It marks damaged proteins so that cells can discard them before they become toxic, and it is believed to play a key role in the removal of damaged mitochondria from cells.
"Ageing is a major risk factor for the development and progression of many neurodegenerative diseases. We think that our findings shed light on the molecular mechanisms that connect these processes," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research.
In the research, Walker and his colleagues show that parkin can modulate the ageing process in fruit flies, which typically live less than two months. The researchers increased parkin levels in the cells of the flies and found that this extended their life span by more than 25 percent, compared with a control group that did not receive additional parkin.
"In the control group, the flies are all dead by Day 50. In the group with parkin over expressed, almost half of the population is still alive after 50 days. We have manipulated only one of their roughly 15,000 genes, and yet the consequences for the organism are profound," Walker said.
"Just by increasing the levels of parkin, they live substantially longer while remaining healthy, active and fertile," said Anil Rana, a postdoctoral scholar in Walker`s laboratory and lead author of the research.
"That is what we want to achieve in ageing research - not only to increase their life span but to increase their health span as well," he added.
Treatments to increase parkin expression may delay the onset and progression of Parkinson`s disease and other age-related diseases, the biologists believe.
"Our research may be telling us that parkin could be an important therapeutic target for neurodegenerative diseases and perhaps other diseases of aging," Walker said.
The research was published in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.