Scientists discover key to youth

15:00 AEST Fri May 3 2013
Kimberly Gillan
Getty Images

US scientists believe they may have found the brain region that controls ageing.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College in New York studying mice said the almond-sized hypothalamus section of the brain, which controls growth and metabolism, could play a big role in ageing by regulating the secretion of hormones.

They used a drug to block a chemical messenger in the hypothalamus called NF-kB, which extended the mice's lives by 20 percent, and reduced their rate of cognitive decline by 50 percent.

The hypothalamus in mice brains is very similar to humans and we share 99 percent of the same genes.

The scientists said blocking that chemical helped reduce inflammation —something that is linked with heart disease, neurological disorders and various types of cancer.

"It's clear from our study that many aspects of ageing are controlled by the hypothalamus," said study author Dr Dongsheng Cai.

"What's exciting is that it's possible, at least in mice, to alter signalling within the hypothalamus to slow down the ageing process and increase longevity."

They were also able to bolster NF-kB to speed up ageing.

"The mice showed a decrease in muscle strength and size, in skin thickness, and in their ability to learn — all indicators of ageing. Activating this pathway promoted systemic ageing that shortened their lifespan," Dr Cai said.

"The hypothalamus seems to have a fundamental role in the ageing of the whole body because it is so critical to the regulation of the endocrine hormones."

Dr Matt Mundy, a psychology lecturer told MSN NZ the study is exciting but it will be a long time before it can be tested in humans.

"We have to moderate that excitement because hormones can have multiple effects on the brain and the body as well so we would have to look very carefully at side effects," he said.

"It's clearly not the end of the story –– there is going to be an awful lot of work before it is translated into anything on a human level."

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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