genetics: gene implicated in aging and fertility

Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered a gene that plays a role in regulating aging and fertility in mice, which may lead to a better understanding of age-related disorders in humans. In the July issue of Nature Genetics, Jan van Deursen and colleagues report that a gene called BubR1 regulates a protein that controls physical aging in mice. The researchers discovered that mice genetically engineered to lack normal amounts of the BubR1 protein aged prematurely, living only a fifth as long as normal mice. BubR1 protein levels in normal mice also declined as they got older, suggesting that a lack of the protein could be responsible for some of the physiological effects of aging. Mice with low amounts of the protein developed cataracts similar to those seen in people over age 65. The mice were also infertile, their reproductive cells having chromosomal abnormalities. For humans, abnormal numbers of chromosomes in sex cells are also a hallmark of reproductive aging, a cause of Down syndrome and stillbirths. “It seems reasonable to assume that this protein may contribute to age-related infertility and certain birth defects in humans,” van Deursen stated in a press release. It is hoped the finding will lead to better treatments of these disorders.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 7/13/2004.
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