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The Metabolic Signature of Really Old People

By Alex B. Berezow

Scientists are learning more about extremely old people. For instance, we now know that they are happy, benefit from playing video games and don't smell quite as bad as we thought. Perhaps more importantly, researchers have compared their epigenomes to those of newborns and offered prizes to sequence their DNA. This is because scientists want to examine the biological makeup of centenarians in order to discern what makes them live longer than everybody else.

A new paper in PLoS ONE adds more details to the mix. Italian and Swiss researchers analyzed particular metabolites in the serum of centenarians, the elderly (about 70 years old) and young people (about 30 years old), and found a difference between all three groups. (See figure.)

Note: Blue = Decrease; Orange = Increase; Black = No change

The authors believe panel (A) represents a metabolic signature of the aging process. Notice that some metabolites steadily increase with age, while others steadily decrease with age. Panel (B) shows metabolites which are uniquely different in centenarians. Notice a dramatic shift in the quantity of certain metabolites once a person reaches an extremely advanced age. Panel (C) represents metabolites which are similar in centenarians and the young, but are different in the elderly. The authors believe these metabolites in particular could be key to understanding longevity.

Many of the metabolites shown above are lipids, and the authors conclude that changes in the serum lipid profile may help centenarians adapt better to the aging process.

Source: Collino S, Montoliu I, Martin F-PJ, Scherer M, Mari D, et al. (2013) "Metabolic Signatures of Extreme Longevity in Northern Italian Centenarians Reveal a Complex Remodeling of Lipids, Amino Acids, and Gut Microbiota Metabolism." PLoS ONE 8(3): e56564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056564

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