An 80-year old drug, once used to treat diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disorders, may help slow down the aging process, say researchers.
Recent animal studies have shown that the drug, clioquinol, can reverse the progression of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
However, scientists had a variety of theories to attempt to explain how a single compound could have such similar effects on three unrelated neurodegenerative disorders.
Now, researchers at McGill University have discovered that clioquinol acts directly on an aging gene called, CLK1, often informally called 'clock-1.'
"Clioquinol is a very powerful inhibitor of clock-1," said Dr. Siegfried Hekimi, McGill's Strathcona Chair of Zoology and Robert Archibald and Catherine Louise Campbell Chair in Developmental Biology.
"Because clock-1 affects longevity in invertebrates and mice, and because we're talking about three age-dependent neurodegenerative diseases, we hypothesize that clioquinol affects them by slowing down the rate of aging," Hekimi added.
Hekimi said that the exact mechanism of how clioquinol inhibits CLK-1 is till under investigation.
"One possibility is that metals are involved as clioquinol is a metal chelator," he said.
Chelation is a type of binding to metal ions and is often used to treat heavy metal poisoning.
Hekimi said he is optimistic but cautious when asked whether clioquinol could eventually become an anti-aging treatment.
"The drug affects a gene which when inhibited can slow down aging. The implication is that we can change the rate of aging. This might be why clioquinol is able to work on this diversity of diseases that are all age-dependent," he added.
The advance online edition of the study was published in Oct. 2008 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.