Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine report that they blocked the action of a single protein and reversed the effects of aging on the skin of mice for a short period.
The team cautions that their findings aren't likely to be the source of the long-sought fountain of youth. That's because they don't know if the rejuvenating effects of NF-kappa-B are long lasting.
Also, the protein has roles in cancer, the immune system, and a range of other functions throughout the body. Suppressing the protein on a long-term basis could very well result in cancers or other diseases that undermine its otherwise youthful effect.
Instead, the researchers believe their work could point to a way of helping older people heal more quickly after surgery or boost organ function during illness. These short-term applications aren't as likely to lead to side effects that could accompany blocking such a critical protein, they say.
In past experiments, scientists found a large number of diverse genes that become either more active or less active in older people. The Stanford team searched through this existing data to see if those age-related genes had anything in common. It turned out that their activity depends on the protein NF-kappa-B.
The investigators then tested whether blocking the activity of NF-kappa-B in the skin of older mice for two weeks had a youthful effect. After two weeks, the skin of two-year-old mice had the same genes active as cells in the skin of newborn mice, the Stanford group reports. The skin was also thicker and more cells appeared to be dividing, they add.
The results will be published in the December 15 issue of Genes and Development.