Scientist have started to show more understanding about the impact of ageing. Recently they have been carrying out experiments on roundworms to see what impact antidepressants have on their lifespan.
Studies have shown that mianserin, an antidepressant, lengthened the ‘teenage’ years in roundworms. This study built on research done in 2007 that showed the lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans almost doubled to 40 days when using the same drug.
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Surprising changes in the expression of genes with similar functions were noted, such as teens responsible for metabolism – expressed increased in some instances and decreased in others. The researches were able to predict how long that the worm would live for before it had even reached full maturity.
Sunitha Rangaraju, from the Scripps Research Institute in California, who was working with the worms, had this to say “We now have a reliable measuring tape in our tool box to study ageing Having a new tool to study aging could help us make new discoveries, for example, to understand genetic predispositions where aging starts earlier, such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome.”
The scientists have called these changes in gene expression ‘transcriptional drift”. Excitingly, they were also able to confirm that this happens in mammals after examining data from mice and humans ages 26 to 106.
What does this mean for us, as humans?
Research found that mianserin, the antidepressant, does not reverse ageing, but it does intact pause it, on roundworms anyway. Researchers are keen to warn against people using the antidepressant to extend their own teenage years or early twenties as there “were millions of years of evolution between worms and humans”.
“If you add the drug early, you preserve a youthful gene expression pattern, but if you add it too late the damage is already done,” said Michael Petrascheck, lead researcher.