Science Figures Interpreted and Analyzed by RealClearScience
For hundreds of years, humans have hunted for the Fountain of Youth, the ultimate goal of the search for immortality. While the answer to long life was once thought to be hidden in Florida, we now understand that it instead may reside in the genetic information of centenarians, humans who live to be over 100 years old.
In research published today in Nature's Scientific Reports, Spanish researchers detail the findings of a study which compared miRNA expression of centenarians, octogenarians (people who are between 80 and 99 years old), and young people between the ages of 24 and 44.
miRNAs are small, single-stranded nucleic acid molecules, related to DNA, that play a role in the regulation of gene expression. Researchers compared the expression levels of almost 18,000 miRNAs between 20 centenarians, 16 octogenarians, and 14 young people.
Fascinatingly, the researchers discovered that 102 RNAs were upregulated in centenarians versus octogenarians while only one was downregulated. Furthermore, the centenarians' miRNA profiles significantly overlapped with young people.
Scientists aren't certain how most miRNAs precisely function. Notably, however, four RNAs specifically overexpressed in centenarians are known to be related in some way to health-protecting processes within the body (see figure above).
A terrific follow-up to the current study is already underway: A few of the octogenarians in the study also had upregulated levels of miRNAs, similar to centenarians. They are now taking part in longitudinal studies that will follow their progress, hopefully to the age of 100 and beyond.
Source: Eva Serna, Juan Gambini, Consuelo Borras, Kheira Mohammed, Angel Belenguer, Paula Sanchis, Juan A. Avellana, Leocadio Rodriguez-Mañas & Jose Viña "Centenarians, but not octogenarians, up-regulate the expression of microRNAs." Scientific Reports 2, Article number:961 doi:10.1038/srep00961