(previous session)

Craig Skinner (Lin Lab, UC Davis): Identification of potential calorie restriction mimics in yeast using a nitric oxide-based screen. Yeast are an important model system in biogerontology, useful not only for genetic studies of longevity control but also for discovery of bioactive compounds. Calorie restriction (CR) in yeast causes increased levels of nitric oxide (NO) — somewhat surprising in that yeast cells lack a homolog of nitric oxide synthase — and elevated NO is sufficient to extend yeast lifespan. These observations led Skinner to screen a yeast deletion library for elevated NO levels, yielding several genes that extend lifespan.

Mark Lucanic (Lithgow Lab, Buck): Endocannabinoid signaling mediates the effect of diet on lifespan in C. elegans. Mutants in the dauer pathway in C. elegans often influence longevity; the daf-2 mutation, which causes constitutive dauer formation at elevated temperatures, extends lifespan by several fold. Lucanic discovered that endocannabinoids are involved in the regulation of the dauer pathway — and therefore, of longevity — either independently of or far downstream of daf-2 and daf-16. Endocannabinoids are upregulated under well-fed conditions, and shorten lifespan.

Delia David (Kenyon Lab, UCSF): Widespread protein aggregation is an inherent part of aging in C. elegans. Protein aggregates are a hallmark of many age-related neurodegenerative diseases, leading to the hypotheses that the cellular mileu changes with age in a manner that causes native, aggregation-prone proteins to form aggregates. David used mass spectrometry to identify a subset of normal worm proteins aggregate as a function of age. As with the proteins associated with neurodegeneration, specific proteins aggregate in specific cell types. Mutations that extend lifespan (such as daf-2) decrease aggregation, and tend to downregulate the expression of genes encoding aggregation-prone proteins. Curiously, regulators of protein homeostasis tend to aggregate themselves, leading to a destructive positive feedback loop in which the very factors that protect the cell from proteotoxicity disappear into aggregates, leading to further aggregation.

Cherry Tang (Zhong Lab, Berkeley): The Clearance of Ubiquitinated Protein Aggregates Via Autophagy. Autophagic protein degradation has been implicated in control of lifespan: autophagy slows cell and tissue aging. Tang has identified a protein that participates in degradation of ubiquitinated proteins and co-localizes with autophagosomes; when the protein is knocked down, protein aggregates become more toxic.

(next session)

Here are the biogerontological reviews from the last month or so that I’ve found interesting and noteworthy. The field as a whole continues to massively overproduce review papers; by my totally unscientific estimate, these represent less than ten percent of the review abstracts that crossed my desk since Thanksgiving.

The last installment of review roundup can be found here. As always, each Review Roundup is guaranteed to contain at least one link to a review you will find highly educational, or your money back.

Comparative biogerontology:

A while back I attended a NAKFI meeting about aging. Along with a few others, I applied for (and got) a seed grant to use comparative zoology to study aging — in a nutshell, to study the various ways that nature has solved various problems that arise during aging, and see whether we might learn something that could be applied to enhancing human healthspan or lifespan.

The initial small grant funded a series of meetings, culminating in a large-scale gathering of scientist with wide expertise not only in biogerontology but also zoology, evolutionary biology, metabolomics, and other disparate fields. While this conference didn’t end up leading to the creation a single comprehensive Comparative Biogerontology Initiative, as some of my fellow applicants had hoped, it did provoke a great deal of excellent discussion. There are a few smaller-scale efforts currently underway, initiated by people who came together to talk about the original idea.

Two of the attendees of the big meeting have published reviews recently. I haven’t asked them personally but I am assuming that they’re discussing ideas that germinated at the CBI conferences.

Gene regulation:



One of the authors of the first paper is Thomas Nyström, whose lab recently described the role of cell polarity in sorting protein aggregates preferentially into the mother cell during cell division. That story lacked a significant mitochondrial component, so this review is a nice complement to the primary study published earlier this year.

Nuclear organization:

Stem cells:

Leanne Jones, the senior author on this review, is one of the folks writing the proverbial book on the critical interactions between stem cells and the tissue microenvironment. Her lab uses the Drosophila gonad as a model system.

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Welcome to the tenth edition of Hourglass, our blog carnival about the biology of aging. This month, the carnival has returned home to Ouroboros. In this issue, we have submissions from six bloggers, including a nice mix of veterans and new participants. Several of the posts are united by common themes: we have heavy representation from the neuroscience community, and multiple discussions of the clinical and social payoffs that are likely to result from progress in lifespan extension.

At psique (which hosted Hourglass IX), Laura Kilarski describes an important, evolving online tool for biogerontologists: the Human Aging Genomics Resources:

As I was reading a paper earlier about chromosomal region 11.5p and its putative association with aging (Lescai et al, 2009) I came across an interesting sounding url, namely Turns out that the website is home to HAGR, an interdisciplinary project devoted to the genetic study of aging … GenAge constitutes a major part of the site, and is a manually curated database of genes which could possibly be associated with human aging, largely based on studies done on the usual suspects: Mr. Mouse, Drosophila, C. elegans, and yeast. … The AnAge database on the other hand contains entries for over 4000 animals and some basic life-span-related facts. … And then there’s the ‘Δ Project’, the aim of which is to figure out transcriptional differences between young and old organisms.

Laura describes HAGR in depth and also provides some of her own analysis of the available resources.

On another age-related subject, neurodegeneration, Laura discusses the potential value of regular brain scans for early ascertainment of diseases such as Parkinson’s. Free brain scans for all! It’s a moving piece, which underscores the human cost of neurodegenerative illness and describes the author’s personal reactions on the subject, while also addressing important clinical and scientific issues.

As we age, we all suffer from some level of neurodegeneration, though in most cases this falls below the threshold of a clinical pathology. Slow chronic change isn’t the only form of age-related brain damage: let’s not forget about strokes, which can wipe out otherwise healthy neurons in macroscopic regions of the brain. While the risk factors for stroke and neurodegeneration are distinct, therapies might ultimately be quite similar — since in both cases, the goal is to regrow neurons to replace those that have been lost. At Brain Stimulant, Mike tell us about a clinical trial that will use stem cells to treat stroke:

The company Reneuron has just recently gotten the go ahead to commence a new trial that will use stem cells to treat patients with stroke damage. The trial will use stem cells to replace missing brain matter in those who have had stroke brain trauma. They are injecting doses of approximately 20 million stem cells into the stroke patients brain. Interestingly these ReN001 stem cells will not require a patient to have immunosuppression therapy.

He goes on to discuss the future challenges posed by the prospect for brain engineering: precise cell delivery, control of axon sprouting and pathfinding, and the possibility of using non-invasive methods to encourage the growth of new cells.

Also coming from a neuroscience perspective, Christopher Harris of Best Before Yesterday writes about What we need to accelerate biomedical research and fight aging.

A few hundred years ago I could not have been born. I was massive – 5.5kg – and the birth eventually turned caesarean and took many long hours. I owe my life to medical science. One day, 11 years later, I was out biking and realized for the first time that the annihilation following my death would be infinite. Now, 25 years after my complicated birth, I think a lot about whether medical science, rejuvenation research of the SENS variety in particular, will save me a second time.

What do we need? According to Harris: (1) Safe and inexpensive brain surgery (to install devices that can manipulate the reward circuitry of the brain); (2) Widespread use of enhanced motivation through deep brain stimulation (specifically to encourage exercise and healthy living); and (3) Rewarding brain stimulation for research centers (to accelerate scientific progress).

One of my favorite new sites, the Science of Aging Timeline, has a new entry about the Sinclair lab’s discovery of sirtuin-activating compounds:

Working off a model of calorie restriction via sirtuins David Sinclair et al. worked to find molecules which could modulate sitruins activity, and thus longevity.

They accomplished this by screening a number of small molecule libraries, which included analogues of epsilon-acetyl lysine, NAD+, NAD+ precursors, nucleotides and purinergic ligands. Results from the screening where assayed against human SIRT1 to identify potential inhibitors, and the following molecules where found: Resveratrol, Butein, Piceatannol, Isoliquiritigenin, Fisetin, and Quercetin. Of all of these, resveratrol proved to be the most potent …

In the copious spare time left when he’s not working on the comprehensive history of biogerontology, timeline curator Paul House has started another ambitious project: a catalog of all the labs working on aging. It’s early days yet, and only a few labs are listed, but I’ve already seen Paul take one great idea (the timeline) from seed to oak, so I have every confidence that this page will grow substantially in the weeks and months to come. Those who are interested in having their labs listed on the page can send Paul an email.

Over at Fight Aging!, Reason continues excellent coverage of recent papers in biogerontology; I daresay that the detail of coverage on primary scientific literature has improved even further in the past month or so, concomitant with the site’s participation in the ResearchBlogging tracking system for blog posts about journal articles. For this edition of Hourglass, Reason has submitted two excellent analyses of recent papers, and a third piece of a more philosophical bent:

It is from the last piece that I’ve chosen an excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up and find that we were all immortal? That would save a whole lot of work, uncertainty, and existential angst – and we humans are nothing if not motivated to do less work. The best of us toil endlessly in search of saving a few minutes here and a few minutes there. So it happens that there exist a range of metaphysical lines of thought – outside the bounds of theology – that suggest we humans are immortal. We should cast a suspicious eye upon any line of philosophy that would be extraordinarily convenient if true, human nature being what it is.

Moving on from a philosophical post written by a scientifically minded life-extension advocate, our next posts are scientific posts written about life extension from a political philosopher. Colin Farrelly of In Search of Enlightenment has submitted two long, thoughtful articles, the first about the clinical and social importance of tackling aging, the second about the cognitive biases that affect the way we think about risk and the significance of aging as a cause of mortality:

The “availability heuristic” was a new one on me. Here’s an operational definition as it applies to our thinking about aging:

In a rational world, aging research would be at the forefront of a global collaborative initiative to improve the health and economic prospects of today’s aging populations (and all future generations).

But humans are not rational. We suffer many cognitive biases. One prominent bias is the availability heuristic. Risks that are easily brought to mind are given a higher probability; and conversely, the less vivid a risk, the more likely we are to underestimate the probability of their occurring.

The two tests above reveal how prominent this heuristic is in your own comprehension of the risks facing yourself, your loved ones and humanity. Because death by aging is not something that is vivid is most people’s minds (though it is in the minds of the scientists who study the biology of aging and thus know all too well how it affects a species functional capacities), odds are you probably underestimated it as a risk of mortality.

The benefits of lifespan extension, both with regard to human health and society as a whole is sometimes called the Longevity Dividend. Alvaro Fernandez from SharpBrains sent in a long piece about the Longevity Dividend (written by a contributor from the Kronos Longevity Research Institute). Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Gray is the New Gold:

The Longevity Dividend is a theory that says we hope to intervene scientifically to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related diseases. Delaying aging just seven years would slash rates of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in half. That’s the longevity part. … The dividend comes from the social, economic, and health bonuses that would then be available to spend on schools, energy, jobs, infrastructure—trillions of dollars that today we spend on healthcare services. In fact, at the rate we’re going, by the year 2020 one out of every $5 spent in this country will be spent on healthcare. Obviously, something has to change.

Alvaro, the editor of SharpBrains and founder of the parent website, has recently published a book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, which is the subject of this recent (and quite favoriable) review. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s list of cognitive fitness references, based on the authors’ research for the book.

That’s all for now. If you’d like to host a future installation of Hourglass, please email me.

Over at Fight Aging!, Reason has penned a very nice piece of analysis on a recent article demonstrating that stimulation of one autophagic pathway can reduce plasma lipoproteins and triglycerides. From the blog post:

A Tangible Benefit of Artificially Boosting Autophagy

The researchers used a compound to block lipolysis in order to provoke greater levels of autophagy in rats. Interestingly, for all that this is a huge change to mechanisms known to be important to all the major metabolic processes, it has a fairly narrow effect in the biochemical area of interest:

[The action of the compound does not require] the counteraction of the age-related increase in lipoperoxidation, and only involves a restoration of the numbers of LDL receptors on liver membranes to juvenile levels.

Which is unfortunate, given that peroxidation of lipoproteins like LDL is one way in which damaged mitochondria spread increasing destruction through the body’s tissues. You’d think that more macroautophagy would mean fewer damaged mitochondria, and therefore fewer oxidatively damaged lipids, but apparently not. Or not within the timescale of this study, anyway.

An aside on the liver and it’s levels of receptors: last year researchers demonstrated a way in which liver function could be restored through boosting the number of receptors to keep them at youthful levels. That and this research are two quite different topics, but this is an interesting commonality. I wonder where else receptor levels might crop up in relation to aging and important metabolic processes involving the liver’s specialized tasks?

Given the present interest in developing calorie restriction mimetic drugs, I expect increasing amouts of money and interest to flow into tinkering with autophagy in the years ahead. All the same reasons and hoped-for outcomes apply. If you’re interested in the history of antilipolytic compounds in longevity research, you should do some digging at PubMed – see for example, this paper from the same folk back in 2003. They’ve been working on this for a while.

As Reason points out, this is reminiscent of last year’s report that stimulating another flavor of autophagy (chaperone-mediated autophagy, in contrast to the macroautophagy studied in this paper) can delay hepatic aging.

Questions arising:

  • Do the treated rats live longer? As the saying goes, only time will tell. Presumably the lifespan curves are already underway; unfortunately, rats live a pretty long time so it might be a while before we know the answer.
  • What is the target cell, if any? Is the decrease in blood lipids a consequence of every cell in the body upregulating autophagy and therefore needing more cholesterol and triglycerides in order to rebuild membrane-bound organelles, or is this a consequence of the drug acting mainly on specific tissues/organs? Especially if this pathway is to be targeted by drugs or, in the long term, genetic engineering, it will be important to find out where the action is taking place.
  • On a related note: Is there a down side? I’m wondering whether the effects of accelerating macroautophagy will be uniformly beneficial to all cell types. I’m especially concerned with respect to cognitive function: In worm and fly, age-related neuronal death is mediated by autophagy and there’s building evidence that the same is true in mammals. (This makes sense: Cellular homeostasis is a balance between creation of new components and destruction of old ones; one can easily imagine a delicate and finicky cell like a neuron losing control of this balance if the rate of degradation were to suddenly rise.)

ResearchBlogging.orgStraniero, S., Cavallini, G., Donati, A., Pallottini, V., Martini, C., Trentalance, A., & Bergamini, E. (2009). Stimulation of Autophagy by Antilipolytic Drugs May Rescue Rodents from Age-Associated Hypercholesterolemia Rejuvenation Research, 12 (2), 77-84 DOI: 10.1089/rej.2008.0806

Here’s the latest in our (infrequent and irregular) series of “review roundups” — links, without extensive further comment, to the reviews I found most intriguing over the past few weeks. For the previous foray into the secondary literature, see here.

Remember, each Review Roundup is guaranteed to contain at least one link to a review you will find highly educational, or your money back.










Two special journal issues of note to biogerontologists:

I included the ISBNs because publishers have an annoying way of using very temporary, dynamic links to journal issues (so far as I know, there’s no DOI-equivalent yet for specific issues of a given journal), so I am betting those links will be broken in a month or so.

Sometimes I feel like our field produces review articles faster than it produces good ideas. Certainly, biogerontology generates more reviews in a given week than truly significant papers, but the same might be said of any discipline.

I’ve been ambivalent about how to deal with reviews — I’ve considered ignoring them altogether, only covering the “important ones,” link-dumping a bunch of them whenever I was too lazy to write a real post, and various other hybrid strategies. Ignoring them seemed most attractive, since our main mission at Ouroboros is to review the primary literature, so reviewing reviews seemed pointless and derivative.

But a recent reader inquiry (from one of our junior colleagues who basically wanted me to do some of their homework for them; my response was basically “read a review and make up your own mind”) reminded me of the importance of review articles: They’re a great way for scientists who aren’t already expert in a field to figure out where the important questions are. The best ones also juxtapose the most current efforts in creative and interesting ways, adding value by pointing out non-obvious connections between subfields. If read closely and attentively, reviews can be the source of great inspiration.

So rather than treating the elements of the secondary literature like second-class citizens, I’m going to start a quasi-regular feature wherein I (or one of the other writers) compile a list of the most important and interesting reviews of the last couple of weeks, and link to them without much further comment (thereby avoiding the vaguely ridiculous feeling of reviewing reviews, which would make one — what? — the “tertiary literature”?). You, the reader, can do what you wish with them. This new feature of Ouroboros begins…NOW!



DNA damage & gene expression:





TOR signaling:


Like I said, I’ll do something like this every couple of weeks, or whenever the review folder gets full. That way we’ll never fall too far behind.

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