Anti-aging tricks from dietary supplement seen in mice

Our recent news item on a Cell Reports paper from ShiQin Xiong and Wayne Alexander describes a connection between two important biological molecules: the exercise-induced transcription coactivator PGC1-alpha and the enzyme telomerase, sometimes described as a “fountain of youth” because telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes.

While the Emory researchers did not directly assess the effects of exercise in their experiments, their findings provide molecular clues to how exercise might slow the effects of aging or chronic disease in some cell types.

Xiong and Alexander found that the dietary supplement alpha lipoic acid (ALA) can stimulate telomerase, with positive effects in a mouse model of atherosclerosis. ALA is a sulfur-containing fatty acid used to treat diabetic neuropathy in Germany, and has previously been shown to combat atherosclerosis in animal models. The Emory authors’ main focus was on vascular smooth muscle cells and note that more study of ALA’s effects on other cell types is needed.

Below are four key references that may help you put the Cell Reports paper in context:

1) Review from Bruce Spiegelman on PGC1-alpha and its role in coordinating the response to exercise in skeletal muscle

2) Nature paper from Ron DePinho and colleagues on the good things that happen when telomerase is reactivated in telomerase-deficient mice. PGC1-alpha comes into play a little bit already.

3) To fight atherosclerosis, activating telomerase could be good in smooth muscle cells, but not everywhere. The relationship between telomere length and atherosclerosis is complex. ATVB paper showing inflammatory signals actually activate telomerase in macrophages, which form atherosclerotic plaques.

4) Alpha lipoid acid might not work as a “soaking up bad things” antioxidant; instead, it appears to stimulate cells’ defenses

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Quinn Eastman

Science Writer, Research Communications 404-727-7829 Office

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