Unlocking Secrets of Key Human Enzymes

Findings link sirtuins to long life

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TUESDAY, Nov. 4, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- New information about the activity of sirtuins, a family of enzymes known to play a critical role in a number of vital life processes, has been uncovered by researchers at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

Humans have at least seven different sirtuins involved in a range of tasks including metabolism, aging and gene expression. Previous research has shown low-calorie diets that extend life also greatly boost sirtuin activity.

It's also been found that a sirtuin-activating compound in red wine increased the life span of yeast cells by more than two-thirds.

Given these findings, researchers want to better understand how sirtuins function. That could provide the foundation for developing new kinds of drugs that might help promote better health.

As part of that effort, structural biologists at The Wistar Institute focused on studying the role of sirtuins in gene expression -- specifically in turning genes off. Their results indicate a mechanism of action likely to be general for the entire sirtuin family.

The Wistar study may provide a starting point for understanding how metabolism and aging may be linked through the mechanisms that control gene expression.

"We've known for some time that there is a connection between low-calorie diets and longevity," senior author Ronen Marmorstein, a professor in the Gene Expression and Regulation Program, says in a prepared statement.

"More and more, too, it looks like there is a real link between metabolism and gene expression. By providing a clearer picture of how sirtuins operate generally, our findings may begin to suggest how these three areas -- metabolism, gene expression and aging -- intersect at the molecular level," Marmorstein says.

The study appears in the November issue of Structure.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about research into longevity.

SOURCE: The Wistar Institute, news release, Nov. 4, 2003

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