Longevity: What’s RNA Got To Do With It?

A genetic screen has revealed that genes involved in RNA homeostasis also play a part in aging and longevity.

AsianScientist (Aug. 27, 2015) – Scientists from South Korea’s Institute for Basic Science (IBS) have found that the RNA helicase HEL-1 can extend the lifespan of nematode worms. Their study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Genes are well known to play a critical role in the control of aging. One prominent example is the daf-2 mutation, which doubles the lifespan of nematode worms through the action of a genetic pathway called insulin/insulin-like growth factor 1 signaling (IIS). However, as with many other biological processes, more players are likely to be involved.

“Among major biomolecules (DNA, RNA and proteins), the role of RNA in organismal aging has been poorly understood,” lead author Dr. Lee Seung-Jae, an associate professor at the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), told Asian Scientist Magazine.

This gap in our understanding of aging prompted the researchers to explore how a particular class of enzymes, known as the RNA helicases, could impact aging regulation. RNA helicases are a family of enzymes better known for the generating and maintaining RNAs.

To look for lifespan-affecting members in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the authors first reduced the level of RNA helicase-coding genes, and looked which of these candidate gene would impact the lifespan of normal and long-living mutant worms.

One candidate that emerged from this screen was HEL-1, which strongly reduced the mutants’ lifespan but not that of the normal worms. Furthermore, subsequent experiments confirmed that the activity of HEL-1 ties in to the IIS pathway.

Importantly, they also found that HEL-1 interacts with DAF-16/FOXO, an essential transcription factor that turns on expression of longevity-related genes in the IIS pathway. This observation led the authors to speculate that HEL-1 affects the aging rate by regulating the activity of DAF-16/FOXO.

“We do not know exactly how HEL-1 activates FOXO and this should be determined in future studies,” commented Seung on the future research direction.

However, Seung is optimistic the current findings will open new avenues to unraveling the aging process.

“Many RNA helicases exist in various species including mammals,” he says. “Thus, we believe that our study will lead to further exploration of the roles of RNA helicases and RNA regulation in aging.”

The article can be found at: Seo et al. (2015) RNA Helicase HEL-1 Promotes Longevity by Specifically Activating DAF-16/FOXO Transcription Factor Signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: snickclunk/Flickr/CC.
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Born and bred in Hong Kong, Horace is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Universität Heidelberg, Germany. To him, biology is an amazing story and he hopes that more people can appreciate the intricate wonders of life itself.

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