A new study says that autophagy, a major mechanism cells use to digest and recycle their own body fat, might help worms live longer.
At Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham), a team led by Malene Hansen, Ph.D., used a type of worm called Caenorhabditis elegans to work out the molecular underpinnings of the aging process.
They found that two cellular processes-lipid metabolism and autophagy-work together to influence worms' lifespan.
This study provides a more detailed understanding of the roles autophagy and lipid metabolism play in aging.
"The particular worm model we used in this study is known to live longer than normal worms, but we didn't completely understand why," said Dr. Hansen, assistant professor in Sanford-Burnham's Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging and Stem Cell Research Center and senior author of the study.
"Our results suggest that increased autophagy has an anti-aging effect, possibly by promoting the activity of a fat-digesting enzyme. In other words, it seems that recycling fat is a good thing-at least for worms."
"It's basically a supply and demand problem," explained Louis Lapierre, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher and first author of the study.
"When worms have more fat in supply than they have demand for, it has to be stored. In these long-lived worms however, there's activation of a seemingly futile cycle of breaking down fat and re-synthesizing it. Only we found that breaking down fat is actually beneficial and perhaps not so futile after all," he added.
In addition to answering questions about aging, this research is likely to advance the molecular understanding of age-related disorders such as diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
The study will be published in the journal Current Biology.