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Maternal Genes Can Accelerate the Aging Process

Update Date: Aug 21, 2013 01:30 PM EDT

Genes from mom can accelerate the aging process, according to a new study on mice.

Aging, the accumulation of changes in an individual's lifetime, is determined by an accumulation of various kinds of cell damage that impair the function of bodily organs.  More importantly, the aging process seems to be linked to the damage that occurs in the mitochondrion, the cell's power plant.

"The mitochondrion contains its own DNA, which changes more than the DNA in the nucleus, and this has a significant impact on the aging process," lead researcher Nils-Göran Larsson, professor at Karolinska Institutet and principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging, said in a news release. "Many mutations in the mitochondria gradually disable the cell's energy production."

However, the latest study suggests that maternally inherited DNA also affects the aging process.

"Surprisingly, we also show that our mother's mitochondrial DNA seems to influence our own ageing," says Professor Larsson. "If we inherit mDNA with mutations from our mother, we age more quickly."

Researchers explain that normal and damaged DNA is passed down from generation to generation, and the latest study reveals that mild DNA damage is handed down from the mother and contributes to the aging process.

"The study also shows that low levels of mutated mDNA may have developmental effects and help to cause deformities of the brain", co-researcher Professor Lars Olson said in a statement.

"Our findings can shed more light on the ageing process and prove that the mitochondria play a key part in ageing; they also show that it's important to reduce the number of mutations," Larsson added.

Researchers said the next step is to see if the findings apply to other animals like fruit flies, and to explore whether reducing the number of mutations can promote longevity.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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