Death-Defying Mice

One simple idea has created numerous religions, caused mass bloodshed, infatuated the greatest minds of all time, and driven men to the point of insanity: Immortality. Most people, along with their zombie apocalypse scenarios, already have complex theories and moral stances on the topic.  The idea of living forever seems unreal to most, something of fantasy or science-fiction, but recent studies have revealed that the key to unlocking the mystery of eternal life is already within us.

A US team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York performed a series of experiments on mice and found that by manipulating the hypothalamus (a small section in the center of the brain about the size of a nut), they were able to lengthen the lifespan of the mice and drastically improve their living conditions.

As a result of their experiments, the scientists found that by inhibiting the protein NF-kB they were able to increase the lifespan of the mice by about 1/5. For the average human that’s about 16 extra gum-smacking years. But here is where it gets interesting; The studies also showed that by inhibiting the NF-kB protein, the levels of the hormone GnRH increased, and by supplementing the mice with this hormone their quality of life improved dramatically. Each mouse had more muscle, bone mass, and mental capacity than the mice in the control group. Now those extra 16 years sound a little more appealing.

So what are these magical “NF-kB” and “GnRH” factors?

Image from Wikimedia

NF-kB, as mentioned above, is a protein complex that plays a vital role in DNA transcription and immune response. The protein IkB typically inhibits the NF-kB protein complex until age, stress, UV rays, or another factor stimulate the enzyme IkB kinase. Scientists were able to inhibit the NF-kB protein by inhibiting IkB kinase, prolonging the presence of IkB proteins that are located in the cytoplasm of the cell.

By inhibiting the transduction pathway of IkB/NF-kB, scientists found that the levels of the hormone GnRH began to rise. GnRH is a neurohormone that stimulates the production of reproductive cells like eggs and sperm –which makes sense; as people grow older they lose the ability to produce eggs and sperm.

So why haven’t they stopped the presses and given the whole team a Nobel Prize already? It’s because the scientists aren’t really fascinated with the lengthening of life as much as they are with improving the quality of it. The team hopes that the discoveries that they have made will help them find ways to cure or lessen the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease.

Image from Nature

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About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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