Researchers of Cold Spring Harbor laboratory have discovered that the loss of a gene called p63 accelerates the process of aging. Similar versions of the gene are present in many organisms, including humans . Drawing parallels from mice, the researchers had concluded that the p63 gene is likely to play a fundamental biological role in aging-related processes.
To study how the p63 gene works, the researchers had devised a system for eliminating it from adult mouse tissues. The result was seen in the p63 deficient mice, which were aging prematurely.
Mice that are born without the p63 gene do not survive. Therefore, Mills had previously conducted extensive studies of mice that are born with only one copy of the gene. Still, these animals die at a young age. So to study p63 function in adults, Mills and her colleagues devised a sophisticated molecular genetic technique that enabled them to eliminate both copies of the gene from particular tissues including skin and other multi-layered epithelial tissues after the animals reached maturity.
The effects of premature aging observed in these p63 deficient mice (image available on request) were hair loss, reduced fitness and body weight, progressive curvature of the spine, and a shortened lifespan.
The researchers had opined that aging and cancer are two sides of the same coin. In one case, cells stop dividing and in the other, they can't stop dividing. They said that it might be possible that having the right amount of the p63 protein in the right cells at the right time creates a balance that enables organisms to live relatively cancer-free for a reasonably long time. This is the first time the p63 gene has been implicated in aging.
The study is published in the September issue of the journal Genes & Development.