Toxins in the environment might make you older than your years

May 28, 2014, Cell Press

Why are some 75-year-olds downright spry while others can barely get around? Part of the explanation, say researchers writing in the Cell Press journal Trends in Molecular Medicine on May 28, is differences from one person to the next in exposure to harmful substances in the environment, chemicals such as benzene, cigarette smoke, and even stress.

While the birth date on your driver's license can tell you your , that might mean little in terms of the biological of your body and cells. The researchers say that what we need now is a better understanding of the chemicals involved in aging and biomarkers to measure their effects.

"The rate of physiologic, or molecular, aging differs between individuals in part because of exposure to 'gerontogens', i.e., environmental factors that affect aging," said Norman Sharpless from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We believe just as an understanding of carcinogens has informed cancer biology, so will an understanding of gerontogens benefit the study of aging. By identifying and avoiding gerontogens, we will be able to influence aging and life expectancy at a public health level."

In the future, blood tests evaluating biomarkers of molecular age might be used to understand differences amongst individuals in aging rates. Those tests might measure key pathways involved in the process of cellular senescence or chemical modifications to DNA. In fact, Sharpless said in the interest of full disclosure that he has founded a company to commercialize of aging.

From a perspective, is likely the most important gerontogen, Sharpless said. Cigarettes are linked with cancers but also with atherosclerosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and other diseases associated with age. UV radiation from the sun makes us older too, and Sharpless and his colleagues recently showed that chemotherapy treatment is also a strong gerontogen. With the aid of a mouse model that they developed, his team is prepared to study these gerontogens and others in much greater detail.

The researchers call for a concerted research effort to understand the clinical uses for molecular tests of aging as well as the epidemiology of accelerated aging.

"We believe the comparison of molecular markers of aging to clinical outcomes should begin in earnest," Sharpless said. For example, he asked, can biomarkers to aging predict toxicity from surgery or chemotherapy in patients in whom chronological age is already a known risk factor?

Sharpless does caution against making tests of molecular age available to consumers and patients directly. "The potential for miscommunication and other harm seems real," he said.

Explore further: Team shows cancer chemotherapy accelerates 'molecular aging'

More information: Paper: Trends in Molecular Medicine, Sorrentino et al.: "Defining the toxicology of aging"

Related Stories

Team shows cancer chemotherapy accelerates 'molecular aging'

March 28, 2014
Physicians have long suspected that chemotherapy can accelerate the aging process in patients treated for cancer. Using a test developed at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to determine molecular aging, UNC oncologists ...

Adjuvant chemotherapy increases markers of molecular aging in the blood of BC survivors

March 28, 2014
Adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer is "gerontogenic", accelerating the pace of physiologic aging, according to a new study published March 28 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

A mouse model to evaluate potential age-promoting compounds

December 16, 2013
While there are well-established mouse models to identify cancer-causing agents, similar models are not available to readily test and identify age-promoting agents. Recently, a mouse strain (p16LUC mice) was developed that ...

Researchers examine intersection of aging, chronic disease

May 15, 2014
A new collection of articles appearing in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences examine how the basic biology of aging drives chronic disease. Together, they highlight the value of ...

Scientists use luminescent mice to track cancer and aging in real-time

January 17, 2013
In a study published in the January 18 issue of Cell, researchers from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a new method to visualize aging and tumor growth in mice using ...

Recommended for you

Anemia discovery offers new targets to treat fatigue in millions

January 22, 2018
A new discovery from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has revealed an unknown clockwork mechanism within the body that controls the creation of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The finding sheds light on iron-restricted ...

More surprises about blood development—and a possible lead for making lymphocytes

January 22, 2018
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have long been regarded as the granddaddy of all blood cells. After we are born, these multipotent cells give rise to all our cell lineages: lymphoid, myeloid and erythroid cells. Hematologists ...

How metal scaffolds enhance the bone healing process

January 22, 2018
A new study shows how mechanically optimized constructs known as titanium-mesh scaffolds can optimize bone regeneration. The induction of bone regeneration is of importance when treating large bone defects. As demonstrated ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

0 comments

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.