Mitochondria trigger cell aging, study shows

February 4, 2016
Dr. Clara Correia-Melo and Dr. Joao Passos are in the lab. Credit: Newcastle University

An international team of scientists has for the first time shown that mitochondria, the batteries of the cells, are essential for ageing.

In a study, published today in the EMBO Journal and led by Dr João Passos at Newcastle University, they found that when mitochondria were eliminated from ageing cells they became much more similar to younger cells. This experiment was able for the first time to conclusively prove that mitochondria are major triggers of cell ageing.

This brings scientists a step closer to developing therapies to counteract the ageing of cells, by targeting mitochondria.

Defying ageing in the cell

As we grow old, cells in our bodies accumulate different types of damage and have increased inflammation, factors which are thought to contribute to the .

The team carried out a series of genetic experiments involving grown in the laboratory and succeeded in eliminating the majority, if not all, the mitochondria from ageing cells. Cells can normally eliminate mitochondria which are faulty by a process called mitophagy. The scientists were able to "trick" the cells into inducing this process in a grand scale, until all the mitochondria within the cells were physically removed.

Dr. Joao Passos and Dr. Clara Correia-Melo in the lab. Credit: Newcastle University

To their surprise, they observed that the ageing cells, after losing their mitochondria, showed characteristics similar to younger cells, that is they became rejuvenated. The levels of inflammatory molecules, and expression of genes which are among the makers of cellular ageing dropped to the level that would be expected in younger cells.

New thinking on mitochondria

Dr João Passos of the Institute for Ageing said: "This is a very exciting and surprising discovery. We already had some clues that mitochondria played a role in the ageing of cells, but scientists around the world have struggled to understand exactly how and to what extent these were involved.

"These new findings highlight that mitochondria are actually essential to the ageing of cells."

The team led by Newcastle University and involving other universities in the UK and the US, also deciphered a new mechanism by which mitochondria contribute to ageing. They identified that as cells grow old, mitochondrial biogenesis, the complex process by which mitochondria replicate themselves, is a major driver of cellular ageing.

"This is the first time that a study demonstrates that mitochondria are necessary for cellular ageing," said Dr Clara Correia-Melo of the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and the lead author of the study. "Now we are a step closer to devising therapies which target to counteract the ageing of ."

Explore further: Damaged protein could be key to premature ageing

More information: Mitochondria are required for pro-ageing features of the senescent phenotype. EMBO Journal. DOI: 10.15252/embj.201592862

Related Stories

Damaged protein could be key to premature ageing

May 13, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have found that the condition of key proteins in the mitochondria -the batteries of cells- could be used to predict, and eventually treat premature ageing. And restricting diet could be one way ...

Recommended for you

Fighting the aging process at a cellular level

September 22, 2016

It was about 400 BC when Hippocrates astutely observed that gluttony and early death seemed to go hand in hand. Too much food appeared to 'extinguish' life in much the same way as putting too much wood on a fire smothers ...

Tattoo therapy could ease chronic disease

September 22, 2016

A temporary tattoo to help control a chronic disease might someday be possible, according to scientists at Baylor College of Medicine who tested antioxidant nanoparticles created at Rice University.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SusejDog
not rated yet Feb 05, 2016
You obviously wouldn't want to decrease mitochondria in healthy cells because that'll harm your energy levels. You'd want to decrease them only in senescent cells, assuming you didn't want those cells to undergo apoptosis altogether. This is not trivial.

The alternative is stuff like astaxanthin which provides general protection for cells.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.