An aging protein?

The same protein that, when defective, causes a premature-aging disease may also play a role in normal aging.

Children with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS) have maladies of aging, such as baldness and arthritis.

Yet “it hasn’t been clear at the molecular level that this … has anything to do with aging,” says Tom Misteli of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Md.

Misteli and his NCI coworker Paola Scaffidi examined skin cells taken from HGPS patients and elderly people and found the samples to have similar defects.

Studies have identified a mutant version of the protein lamin A as the cause for HGPS. To see whether the defects in elderly patients’ cells could be attributable to abnormal lamin A, the scientists applied a genetic technique that mends the defective protein. When the elderly patients’ cells later divided, their offspring cells looked and behaved like cells taken from younger people, the researchers report in the May 19 Science.

Misteli and Scaffidi speculate that with age, cells might less successfully counter damage from this protein. Misteli says that it’s too early to speculate about a treatment for human aging. “This is far from a miracle cure for anything,” he says.

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