Fruit flies can live significantly longer, and remain healthy, when activity of the fly version of the tumor-suppressing protein p53 is reduced in nerve cells. Published in Current Biology, the results shed important new light on the role this "protector of the genome" plays in aging and point to p53 as a viable target for anti-aging drugs.
The p53 gene plays a critical role in the body. It protects human cells by producing a protein that triggers apoptosis, or cell suicide, when DNA is badly damaged. This prevents the spread of genetic mutations and the formation of cancer. When the p53 gene is damaged or missing, cancer may result. In fact, more than 50 percent of human cancers carry p53 mutations.
There is, however, a flip side to this guardian gene. When p53 is hyperactive - pumping out higher-than-normal levels of tumor-suppressing protein - it accelerates aging and shortens life span in mice.
Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
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