Genetic discoveries: Implications for Longevity

New genetic discoveries suggest that components of the extracellular matrix might represent a link between immune defence and Longevity: Present and future directions.

Even though links between immunity and Longevity do exist, it is believed that this association is indirect. That is, people that are capable of fighting diseases more efficiently also live longer. However, it remains unclear whether there are common mechanisms controlling Longevity and immune defence.

Research conducted at the Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine shed light on this question. Their research was published in Science Advances and involved the use of Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent nematode found in soil. This worm is widely used as a model organism to study the genetics of several human conditions, due to their genetic similarity, while having a much more simple structure [1].

Their findings indicated that the nervous system of the worm controls its skin-like exterior barrier (also known as cuticle), which changes its structure in response to bacterial infections. According to Assistant Professor Jingru Sun, the corresponding author of the paper, their findings change the traditional view that physical barrier defences are not a response to infections but are part of the body’s basic innate defence against pathogens [2].

They have also used cutting edge genetics technologies to disrupt the expression of the neuronal G-protein-coupled receptor called NPR-8, which regulates collagen, the main structural component of the nematode’s cuticle and human’s skin. When NPR-8 expression was disrupted, nematodes survived longer when exposed to different pathogens.

Additionally, they maintained a smoother cuticle than wild-type nematodes with intact NPR-8 whose cuticle wrinkled in response to the same pathogens. These results suggested that the nervous system can detect infections and responds by remodelling or strengthening the cuticle, which is the first line of protection [1].

Even though these findings indicated that neural regulation of collagens has implications in both Longevity and immune defence, we should bear in mind that humans are much more complex organisms; hence, these findings need to be interpreted carefully. For humans, changes in collagen levels and the stiffness of extracellular matrix can have more complex implications than just the extent of wrinkling.

This can be reflected in the findings of another recent study published in The Journals of Gerontology, in which available genomics data were analysed to identify links between genes and aging in humans. Nevertheless, no strong links were found, highlighting the necessity of integrating genetic association study results with functional genomic and pharmacologic studies [3]. The efforts to identify drug targets to promote healthy aging and Longevity are intensive, and we at Longevity.Technology are excited to see and share with you the results of these efforts.


Image credit: Washington State University