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Molecule links aging and inflammation

Medicine@Yale, 2014 - Mar Apr

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Inflammation in the body is most often thought of as a healthy defense against an invading bacteria or virus. But inflammation can also occur separately from outright infection, and scientists know that as people age, constant low-level inflammation of many organs becomes more common and is thought to contribute to many chronic diseases.

A team of scientists led by Vishwa Deep Dixit, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of comparative medicine and immunobiology at the School of Medicine, has found a new piece of this puzzle: a molecule that controls this age-related inflammation. The protein, NLRP3, was already known to be linked to unusual types of inflammation: that associated with obesity and diabetes, for example.

Dixit’s team reported October 1 in Cell Metabolism that removing the NLRP3 protein in mice prevented many physiological changes that typically accompany aging, including changes to the immune system, eyes, bones, metabolism, and brain cells. Mice without NLRP3, they found, had a longer “healthspan”—the portion of a lifespan free of serious illness.

The study is the first to show that inflammation is causally linked to functional decline in aging and suggests that drugs altering NLRP3 in humans may extend healthspans.