A natural compound has been identified that protects cells and delays ageing in species including yeast, worms and human cells in culture, reports a Nature Communications article published this week.
Ageing causes specific changes in the cell, and most manipulations known to extend lifespan stimulate a process in cells called autophagy. Autophagy is a recycling program that removes and degrades damaged cellular components including proteins and organelles, generating raw material to build new molecules. Compromised autophagy can result in age-related pathologies, including neurodegenerative disorders, when toxic or damaged molecules accumulate in the cell.
Frank Madeo and colleagues screened flavonoids, a group of plant-derived molecules known to promote cellular health, for anti-ageing effects in yeast cells. They identified 4,4’-dimethoxychalcone (DMC), a flavonoid naturally found in Angelica keiskei koidzumi leaves, as a lifespan-extending treatment in yeast, worms, and flies that also reduces age-associated cellular decline in human cells in culture. Treatment with DMC protected heart cells in mice after prolonged myocardial ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart) leading to a smaller area of tissue death. The protective effects of DMC were found to require activation of autophagy and lead to systemic changes in metabolism that are conserved across species.
These observations confirm a conserved role for autophagy in cellular protection and longevity extension and represent a step in the identification and development of pharmacological anti-ageing therapies. However, additional research is required to determine if this is a promising strategy to prevent age-related decline in humans.