Premature aging can be reversed by reactivating an enzyme that protects the tips of chromosomes, a study in mice suggests.
Mice engineered to lack the enzyme, called telomerase, become prematurely decrepit. But they bounced back to health when the enzyme was replaced. The finding, published online November 28 in Nature, hints that some disorders characterized by early aging could be treated by boosting telomerase activity. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)
It also offers the possibility that normal human aging could be slowed by reawakening the enzyme in cells where it has stopped working, says Ronald DePinho, a cancer geneticist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the new study. "This has implications for thinking about telomerase as a serious anti-aging intervention."
More.Other scientists, however, point out that mice lacking telomerase are a poor stand-in for the normal aging process. Moreover, ramping up telomerase in humans could potentially encourage the growth of tumors.