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Newly discovered proteins could divulge ageing secrets

Newly discovered proteins could divulge ageing secrets
14th April 2016

Researchers at the University of Southern California have made a discovery that could help the world to better understand a variety of ageing-related diseases.

The team at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology identified six new proteins that may provide revolutionary insights into the process of ageing. Two of these proteins have been particularly marked out as meriting further investigation. The first of these is SHLP 2, which appears to have both anti-diabetic effects and a neuro-protective capacity, meaning it could provide direction for dealing with illnesses such as diabetes and dementia in the future.

SHLP 6, meanwhile, is believed to be able to encourage the death of cancer cells.

"The findings are an important advance that will be ripe for rapid translation into drug development for diseases of ageing," stated Pinchas Cohen, leader of the study's research team and dean and professor of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

To make their discovery, the team built on previous research that identified two proteins, humanin and MOTS-c, that are believed to play key roles in metabolism and ageing-related ailments. 

These two proteins differ from most in that they are encoded in mitochondria, as opposed to the cell nucleus. Mitochondria have their own collection of genes, which modern medicine now believes play important functions throughout the body.

Using computer analysis, the researchers assessed whether any part of the mitochondrial genome that provides the code for humanin was responsible for any other proteins - and this is where the six new proteins, dubbed SHLPs, were discovered.

Examining both mouse tissues and human cells, the team was able to ascertain that the proteins were distributed differently in different organs, implying that their function is dependent on where they are in the body.

It seems the proteins can perform a variety of functions, including reducing the level of damaging free radicals and helping the body respond better to insulin. However, the levels of these proteins within the body decrease as we age - something that further suggests they could be linked to the onset of various age-related illnesses.