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

Discovery of inner ear function may improve diagnosis of hearing impairment

October 15, 2018
Results from a research study published in Nature Communications show how the inner ear processes speech, something that has until now been unknown. The authors of the report include researchers from Linköping University, ...

Team's study reveals hidden lives of medical biomarkers

October 12, 2018
What do medical biomarkers do on evenings and weekends, when they might be considered off the clock?

Widespread errors in 'proofreading' cause inherited blindness

October 12, 2018
Mistakes in "proofreading" the genetic code of retinal cells is the cause of a form of inherited blindness, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) caused by mutations in splicing factors.

Researchers create a functional salivary gland organoid

October 11, 2018
A research group led by scientists from Showa University and the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research in Japan have, for the first time, succeeded in growing three-dimensional salivary gland tissue that, when implanted ...

Lassa fever vaccine shows promise and reveals new test for immunity

October 11, 2018
Lassa fever belongs to the same class of hemorrhagic fevers as Ebola. Like Ebola, it has been a major health threat in Western Africa, infecting 100,000-300,000 people and killing 5,000 per year. A new vaccine against both ...

Genetically engineered 3-D human muscle transplant in a murine model

October 10, 2018
A growing need for tissues and organs in surgical reconstruction is addressed by the promising field of tissue engineering. For instance, muscle atrophy results from severe traumatic events including deep burns and cancer, ...

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.