Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Scientists successfully prolonged the lifespans of flies and worms by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme produced by all animals.
Almost all animal cells host the enzyme RNA polymerase III, or Pol III. Previous studies have shown the enzyme to be important to protein synthesis and cell growth, but the latest findings -- published this week in the journal Nature -- are the first to reveal its role in the aging process.
A team of researchers from University College London, University of Kent and University of Groningen found a reduction in the expression of Pol III was correlated with a 10 percent increase in lifespan.
"We've uncovered a fundamental role for Pol III in adult flies and worms: its activity negatively impacts stem cell function, gut health and the animal's survival," Danny Filer, a researcher at the UCL Institute of Healthy Aging, said in a news release. "When we inhibit its activity, we can improve all these."
The breakthrough could inspire new drugs.
"As Pol III has the same structure and function across species, we think its role in mammals, and humans, warrants investigation as it may lead to important therapies," Filer said.
Scientists have previously prolonged the lives of mice and other animals using the drug rapamycin, an immune suppressor. The latest research showed curbing Pol III activity works in a similar way.
"Understandably, there's a lot of hype around drugs that extend lifespan and promote healthy ageing but very little is known about how they work, which is fundamental knowledge," said Nazif Alic, also with the Institute of Healthy Aging.
Scientists think rapamycin inhibited a signal that tells Pol III to accelerate growth and aging. The new research suggests directly inhibiting Pol III has the same effect on an organism's cellular metabolism and lifespan.
Researchers used a combination of genetic techniques to inhibit the expression of Pol III in adult worms and flies. They found curbing Pol III activity in the guts of worms and flies was enough to extend the animals' lives.
"It is amazing that we can make one genetic adjustment and positively impact on lifespan and intestinal health, understanding more about the underlying molecules at work here promises new strategies for anti-aging therapies," said Kent researcher Jennifer Tullet.