A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia shows a hormone involved in the aging process is controlled by genetics, illuminating a potential path to reversing the aging process in humans. Previous studies showed that blood levels of this hormone, growth differentiation factor 11, decrease over time, a discovery that was listed as one of the top 10 breakthroughs in science in 2014.
The new study, published Friday in ScienceDaily that was conducted by scientists in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, shows that levels of this hormone are determined by genetics. Researchers hope their discovery of a genetic link that controls one’s blood level of the hormone will play a key role in understanding the manner in which aging is encoded in the genome.
“Finding that GDF11 levels are under genetic control is of significant interest. Since it is under genetic control, we can find the genes responsible for GDF11 levels and its changes with age,” said the study’s senior author Rob Pazdro, an assistant professor in the college’s department of foods and nutrition. Scientists say the study also confirms previous laboratory results showing GDF11 levels in blood decrease over time and also showed that most of the depletion occurs by middle age.
The latest experiment examined the connection between GDF11 levels and markers of aging such as lifespan in 22 genetically diverse inbred mice strains. The strains with the highest GDF11 levels tended to live the longest. Pazdro’s team through gene mapping then identified seven candidate genes that may determine blood GDF11 concentrations at middle age, demonstrating for the first time that GDF11 levels are highly heritable.
“Essentially, we found a missing piece of the aging/genetics puzzle,” Pazdro said. “Very generally, we’ve made an important step toward learning about aging and why we age and what are the pathways that drive it. It’s the first step down a long road, but it’s an important step.”
The UGA study comes on the heels of research in the UK that discovered the cellular senescence substance mitochondria has been associated with cellular damage typical of the aging process where certain cells have lost the ability to replicate. The UK research team showed that removing mitochondria from our cells reduces the levels of markers for cellular aging, which triggers the fountain of youth effect, or in their words, the potential for a “rejuvenation process” that’s in our cells. The UK study was also published on February 5 in Medical News Today.