Endocannabinoid signaling in dietary restriction and lifespan extension

May 11, 2011

There is no longer any doubt that dietary restriction (DR) extends lifespan. Many studies have shown that limiting nutrient intake extends lifespan in yeast, worms, flies and as well as postponing age-related diseases in mice. However, scientists are still puzzling over the exact mechanism of DR, convinced its secrets are the key to new therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even cancer. Research involving the nematode C. elegans at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging sheds new light on a possible mechanism of DR – revealing that a group of lipid signaling molecules called N-acylethanolamines (NAEs) informs the animal of limited or ample nutrients and helps regulate the worm's aging response to changes in its diet. Some of these worm (NAE's) are similar to endocannabinoids in humans, where they regulate many different physiological processes including nutrient intake and energy balance. Thus the link between endocannabinoids, DR and aging could be conserved among species. The study appears in the May 12th edition of Nature.

"This is a missing piece of the DR puzzle. We are now getting into the mechanics of the process," said Matthew S. Gill, PhD, who led the research. Gill, formerly an assistant research professor at the Buck Institute is now an assistant professor at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, FL. In the study, Gill and his Buck Institute colleagues showed that NAE abundance in the worms is reduced during periods of , and that NAE deficiency in the presence of abundant food is sufficient to extend the animals lifespan.

According to Gill and Mark Lucanic, PhD, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Buck and lead author of the study, most research on DR has focused on identifying individual proteins and genes that are players in the process. Gill said this new research identifies a novel small molecule signaling pathway in the worm that coordinates how the worm responds to being in environments of limited or abundant food. "The message about nutrient availability needs to be sent to every cell in the worm's body -- those types of messages tend to be delivered by small molecules, such as hormones and lipid-derived molecules like N-acyl ethanolamines and endocannabinoids."

Lucanic says up until this point, researchers did not think that short-lived nematode , used world-wide to study , had an endocannabinoid system. Even though specific endocannabinoid receptors have yet to be identified in the worm, Lucanic says there is no doubt the worm has components of an endocannabinoid system. "This research provides a new model -- an easily manipulated model for researchers who are studying N-acyl ethanolamines or endocannabinoids," said Lucanic.

Endocannabinoids are active in almost every system in mammalian physiology and have been implicated in learning and memory, appetite and energy metabolism, blood pressure, inflammation and bone growth among others. However, the new research opens up the possibility that NAEs and endocannabinoids influence aging in mammals as well. "There is a lot of interest in developing drugs that mimic the effects of DR, without patients having to reduce calories," said Lucanic. "This research shows that endocannabinoids should be added to the list of drug targets for aging."

More information: "N-Acylethanolamine Signaling Mediates the Effect of Diet on Lifespan in C. elegans," Nature (2011)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 12, 2011
100 year old nematode worms...now there's something to look forward to...
not rated yet May 12, 2011
Thankfully I have not spent the past 40 years stuffing my face like Augustus Gloop. 3 square meals a day ? Gee,...I wonder obese people tend to take on the shape of a pyramid.


Draw a head, legs and arms on that^^, and we get the typical American body shape, kind of like Grimace from McDonaldland, but just....not ..purple.

My work is done here, thank me later.
not rated yet May 14, 2011
Fat gain and retention are heavily influenced by hormone levels (mainly cortisol, insulin, testosterone and growth hormone). Those are influenced by what you eat, how often you exercise, the type of exercise, environmental contaminants, quality/quantity of sleep and mental stress.

It's not as simple as 'stuffing your face' being the culprit. In fact, many obese people eat very little (sometimes in a misguided attempt to lose weight) but stay obese because their metabolisms are so slowed (from eating very little) and their hormones are so fucked up.

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.