Scientists have identified the regulation process behind DNA maintenance. This finding may enhance the body's natural preservation of genetic information.
DNA contains all of the genetic instructions that make us who we are, and maintaining the integrity of our DNA over the course of a lifetime is a critical, yet complex part of the aging process.
The new findings may help researchers delay the onset of aging and aging-related diseases by curbing the loss or damage of our genetic makeup, which makes us more susceptible to cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's. Keeping our DNA intact longer into our later years could help eliminate the sickness and suffering that often goes hand-in-hand with old age.
"Our research is in the very early stages, but there is great potential here, with the capacity to change the human experience," said Robert Bambara, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and leader of the research. "Just the very notion is inspiring."
Bambara and colleagues report that a process called acetylation regulates the maintenance of our DNA. The team has discovered that acetylation determines the degree of fidelity of both DNA replication and repair.
The finding builds on past research, which established that as humans evolved, we created two routes for DNA replication and repair - a standard route that eliminates some damage and a moderate amount of errors, and an elite route that eliminates the large majority of damage and errors from our DNA.
Humans have two routes for DNA replication and repair - a standard route that processes DNA quickly but less accurately, and a high-accuracy route that processes DNA slowly but more accurately.
Only the small portion of our DNA that directs the creation of all the proteins we are made of - proteins in blood cells, heart cells, liver cells and so on - takes the elite route, which uses much more energy and so "costs" the body more. The remaining majority of our DNA, which is not responsible for creating proteins, takes the standard route, which requires fewer resources.
But, scientists have never understood what controls which pathway a given piece of DNA would go down. Study authors found, that like a policeman directing traffic at a busy intersection, acetylation directs which proteins take which route, favoring the protection of DNA that creates proteins by shuttling them down the elite, more accurate course.
"If we found a way to improve the protection of DNA that guides protein production, basically boosting what our body already does to eliminate errors, it could help us live longer," said Lata Balakrishnan, postdoctoral research associate at the Medical Center, who helped lead the work.
"A medication that would cause a small alteration in this acetylation-based regulatory mechanism might change the average onset of cancers or neurological diseases to well beyond the current human lifespan."
"Clearly, a simple preventative approach would be a key, not to immortality, but to longer, disease-free lives," added Bambara.
The study has been published In the Journal of Biological Chemistry.