There are a subset of genes that are activated by one’s circadian rhythms, better known as the biological clock, which are apparently the body’s way of protecting against both stress and aging. In a study out of Oregon State University, researchers found these genes only activate later in life, as well as during intense stress moments when they are needed the most in order to protect one’s more critical life functions.
Looking at fruit flies, Rachael Kuintzle, the lead author of the study and a former graduate student of the university, discovered these genes are used as part of mechanism that is unique in dealing with stress. These findings are of a previously unknown subset of genes that Kuintzle is calling “late-life cyclers.” Based on their findings, the researchers determined that there are at least 25 such genes associated with a person’s biological clock that become rhythmic with age. The results of the study were published in
Even with this discovery, researchers are still attempting to determine what function some of these genes have. A professor at the university and another author on the study, who also happens to be an expert on the function and mechanisms of the biological clock, explained that what they found was that this subset of genes seems to activate and respond to the stressors of life most commonly associated with aging. This includes damage on the molecular and cellular level, diseases and oxidative stress.
As one gets older there is often neural degeneration and memory loss, as well as other problems. These problems tend to be exacerbated when a biological clock is disrupted, even experimentally. The late-life cyclers genes work to do what they can as a natural response to these problems in order to protect an individual’s nervous system. The increase in the expression of these genes in a rhythmic manner is an example of just how important the circadian rhythms are of a person.
David Hendrix, another senior author of the study, shared news that the discovery of these genes could potentially provide the missing link to the research into why aging symptoms are accelerated when the biological clock/circadian rhythms are disrupted. While this study ultimately showcased the fact that these genes play an important role in regulating the activity of genes essential to aging, it also showed that any forms of intense stress at a point in one’s life can lead to these late-life cyclers springing into action. It is important to not disrupt a person’s biological clock since this has been shown to not only shorten one’s lifespan, but also lead to other negative side effects. Knowing that there are genes that actively combat aging and stress is something that could potentially lead to a better of idea of just how important maintaining circadian rhythms actually is.
By Dorothea James
Graphic Courtesy of Oregon State University