Nature study shows common lab dye is a wonder drug -- for worms

Mar 30, 2011

Basic Yellow 1, a dye used in neuroscience laboratories around the world to detect damaged protein in Alzheimer's disease, is a wonder drug for nematode worms. In a study appearing in the March 30, online edition of Nature, the dye, also known as Thioflavin T, (ThT) extended lifespan in healthy nematode worms by more than 50 percent and slowed the disease process in worms bred to mimic aspects of Alzheimer's. The research, conducted at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, could open new ways to intervene in aging and age-related disease.

The study highlights a process called protein homeostasis – the ability of an organism to maintain the proper structure and balance of its proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Genetic studies have long indicated that protein homeostasis is a major contributor to longevity in complex animals. Many degenerative diseases have been linked to a breakdown in the process. Buck faculty member Gordon Lithgow, PhD, who led the research, said this study points to the use of compounds to support protein homeostasis, something that ThT, did as the worms aged.

ThT works as a marker of neurodegenerative diseases because it binds amyloid plaques – the toxic aggregated protein fragments associated with Alzheimer's. In the nematodes ThT's ability to not only bind, but also slow the clumping of toxic protein fragments, may be key to the compound's ability to extend lifespan, according to Lithgow. "We have been looking for compounds that slow aging for more than ten years and ThT is the best we have seen so far," said Lithgow. "But more exciting is the discovery that ThT so dramatically improves nematode models of disease-related pathology as well," said Lithgow, who said the discovery brings together three crucial concepts in the search for compounds that could extend healthspan, the healthy years of life. "ThT allows us to manipulate the aging process, it has the potential to be active in multiple disease states and it enhances the animal's innate ability to deal with changes in its proteins."

The research was the brainchild of Silvestre Alavez, PhD, a staff scientist in the Lithgow lab. Alavez was trained in neuroscience and knew about the use of these compounds to detect disease-related proteins. With the idea that small molecules could impact protein aggregation, he looked at 10 compounds and found five that were effective in increasing lifespan in the worms. Alavez said curcumin, the active ingredient in the popular Indian spice turmeric, also had a significant positive impact on both healthy worms and those bred to express a gene associated with Alzheimer's. "People have been making claims about the health benefits of curcumin for many years. Maybe slowing aging is part of its mechanism of action," said Alavez. Curcumin is currently being tested in several human clinical trials for conditions ranging from colon cancer to rheumatoid arthritis to depression. Alavez says the study supports the concept that protein homeostasis should be the focus of future research. "We now have an exciting new avenue in the search for compounds that both extend lifespan and slow disease processes," said Alavez. "Any small molecule that maintains homeostasis during aging could be active against multiple disease states." Follow up research on ThT is now underway in mice bred to have Alzheimer's.

Explore further: Scientists discover new clues to how weight loss is regulated

Provided by Buck Institute for Age Research

4.8 /5 (5 votes)

Related Stories

Neurodegeneration 'clumping proteins' common in aging process

Aug 10, 2010

Many proteins that form insoluble clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases are also found in healthy individuals and clump together as a normal part of aging. According to a surprising ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

1 hour ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

3 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

23 hours ago

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

eurekalogic
not rated yet Apr 10, 2011
one step closer to extreme longevity