Chinese scientists found nonhuman primates without the SIRT6 protein tend to die hours after birth or have serious birth defects
Chinese scientists have discovered that a "longevity protein" called SIRT6, which regulates ageing in rodents, can also affect development in nonhuman primates.
The latest discovery opens new insights into the study and treatment of complex developmental delay disorders and metabolic diseases in humans.
In 1999, scientists who studied ageing found that the Sirtuin family of genes and their product proteins, which include SIRT6, were linked to longevity in yeast.
In 2012, scientists discovered that an abundance of SIRT6 protein can prolong the lifespan of male mice by around 16 percent.
However, SIRT6's effect in advanced mammals such as primates has remained mostly unknown.
To tackle this challenge, Chinese scientists bioengineered the world's first crab-eating macaques with their SIRT6-producing genes removed.
This allowed scientists to directly observe the effect of SIRT6 deficiency in primates. Findings of the research were published in Nature.
While the macaques lacking SIRT6 did not experience accelerated ageing like the rodents, they did show serious birth defects caused by delayed cell growth, such as in brain, muscle and other organ tissues. Macaques that lacked the protein usually die hours after birth.
"The effect of SIRT6 deficiency is like turning your biological clock backward by half," said Zhang Weiqi, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Biophysics and one of the lead scientists behind the discovery.
If the same effect were applied to humans, "it means a foetus could only develop to five months old in the mother", she said.
Moreover, Zhang and her team discovered that an SIRT6 deficiency in human neural stem cells can jeopardize their proper transformation into neurons. This finding provided further evidence to back a recent discovery made by United States scientists, who reported a loss of function in SIRT6-producing genes in a human foetus can cause it to grow inadequately or die.
"This means SIRT6 is a highly probable candidate for a human longevity protein that can regulate our lifespan and development," Zhang said.
SIRT6 might also be a viable drug target for treating developmental delay disorders, which can lead to a wide range of learning and motor disabilities in children, she said.
For adults and the elderly, SIRT6 might be used to create medicines that target chronic diseases, especially those related to liver or cardiovascular metabolisms, she added. Some studies have also shown SIRT6 might be relevant in treating cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.
"These will be important future research topics," Zhang said. "A new window of research has now opened for the discovery and research of more human longevity proteins in the future.
Source: China Daily
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