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Needle Found In Investigative Haystack

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Needle found in investigative haystack

An article published online on August 8, 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described research by Stephen Helfand and his colleagues at Brown University that decreasing the activity of a protein in just fourteen brain cells extends the lifespan of fruit flies by as much as 20 percent. The protein, p53, helps protect against the development of cancer, however reducing it has been shown to extend lifespan in fruit flies by up to 58 percent.

Dr Helfand, along with postdoctoral research fellow Johannes Bauer and associates, studied batches of flies modified to have reduced p53 activity in various small areas of their nervous systems. In each group, the flies survived their average lifespan of approximately two months. However, when a cluster of fourteen insulin-producing cells in the brains of one group of flies were altered to have lower p53 activity, the flies lived 15 to 20 percent longer than average.

No further extension of lifespan was observed when the fruit flies with altered p53 were placed on calorie restricted diets, leading the researchers to believe that p53 reduction within these brain cells is one of calorie restriction's effects.

"It's quite surprising," commented Dr Bauer. "In the fruit fly brain, there are tens of thousands of cells. But we found that it takes a reduction of p53 activity in only 14 of those brain cells to extend lifespan. It was like finding a needle in the haystack - a very small needle at that." The insulin-producing cells modified in this study are the equivalent of human pancreatic beta cells. A decrease in p53 reduces insulin-responsive activity in the major metabolic organ of the fruit fly known as fat body. "Our findings suggest that lifespan regulation is linked to metabolic regulation," Dr Helfand stated. "The findings also

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