Why do we age? Scientists at Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology have made a discovery which could help answer this surprisingly difficult question.
Research has shown that in old age an area of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum loses its oxidative power, which stops many proteins being able to mature, causing ‘protein misfolding’. This loss of capacity develops in tandem with oxidative damage in the cytosol, a connection that was previously unknown.
Proteins mature in an oxidative environment. When the endoplasmic reticulum loses its oxidative power, the protein structure is weakened, meaning that many vital proteins, such as insulin or antibodies, become unstable.
This helps scientists understand the ageing process, but also the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr Janine Kirstein, the study’s lead author, says that the findings clear up several key questions.
‘Up to now, it has been completely unclear what happens in the endoplasmic reticulum during the ageing process. We have now succeeded in answering this question. This is absolutely new and helps us to understand why secretory proteins become unstable and lose their function in advanced age and after stress. This may explain why the immune response declines as we get older.’