Live long and prosper

Does protein synthesis by specialized ribosomes improve the health span?

A team of Austrian researchers discovered that the novel gene NSUN5 is able to modulate the aging process of different organisms. Markus Schosserer and Johannes Grillari (Department of Biotechnology, BOKU-University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) and Hannelore Breitenbach-Koller (University of Salzburg) revealed that protein synthesis in cells can be "reprogrammed" by reducing NSUN5 levels, which in turn extends the lifespans of flies, worms and baker’s yeast. This study was carried out in cooperation with international partner labs and was recently published in Nature Communications.

Ribosomes are molecular machines carrying out cellular protein synthesis. In the last few years it became clear that this is not a pure mechanical process, but that it is actively regulated by differentially composed ribosomes. By building these "specialized" ribosomes, cells are better able to react to different environmental conditions, such as heat, starvation and other types of stress.
NSUN5 adds a single methyl group to ribosomal RNA, one of the most important building blocks of ribosomes. If NSUN5 and thereby the methyl group are missing, these "specialized" ribosomes synthesize proteins, which render flies, worms and yeast more resistant to stress and thereby allow them to live longer.

Although the gap between simple model organisms and potential applications in humans is still large, the researchers believe that their findings might contribute to a better understanding of ageing and related diseases and thereby promote a healthier life at old age.

This project was funded by the Austrian Research Fund (FWF) and by the Christian Doppler Society (CDG).

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