Unexpected mechanism for a longevity lipid

The idea that particular lipid components, such as omega-3 fatty acids, promote health is quite familiar, so the finding that the lipid oleoylethanolamide or OEA extends longevity in the worm C. elegans is perhaps not so surprising. However, a recent paper in Science is remarkable for what it reveals about how OEA exerts its effects.

Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine led by Meng Wang, with some help from biochemists Eric Ortlund and Eric Armstrong at Emory, discovered that OEA is a way one part of the cell, the lysosome, talks to another part, the nucleus. Lysosomes are sort of recycling centers/trash digesters (important for autophagy) and the nucleus is the control tower for the cell. The authors show that starting in lysosomes, OEA travels to the nucleus and activates nuclear hormone receptors (the Ortlund lab’s specialty).

A perspective piece in Science accompanying the research paper says:

“The findings … are exciting because they are the first to establish a lysosome-to-nucleus signal that functions in aging regulation and to show that dietary modulation of fatty acids such as OEA has the potential to delay aging.”

OEA, produced in the small intestine, was already known to involved in regulating appetite (a high-fat diet suppresses its production, it was discovered in 2013) but these results raise the possibility that OEA might also be acting outside the gut-brain circuit.

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Quinn Eastman

Science Writer, Research Communications qeastma@emory.edu 404-727-7829 Office

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