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Fruit Fly RNA Lends Insight to Aging Process

Feb 05, 2014 08:08 PM EST

Alzheimer's and Huntington's are generally associated with aging, but researchers have never proven a biological link between the two. A study of fruit fly RNA molecules, recently published in Genes and Development, may have provided some clarity on the mechanism behind the apparent coupling of aging and neurodegeneration, according to researchers.

"As the flies in our experiment age, we're able to detect specific patterns of microRNAs - which help to regulate genes - when they are bound to specific proteins," said Ammar Naqvi, a doctoral student in computational and integrative biology at Rutgers University-Camden, in a statement.

Naqvi explained that microRNAs are connected to various developmental stages and disease states. Their natural processes are required for the integrity and maintenance of cells.

The research is being done under the supervision of Andrey Grigoriev, a professor of biology at Rutgers-Camden, and in collaboration with a research team at the University of Pennsylvania.

In fruit flies, microRNAs attach themselves onto either the Ago1 or Ago2 protein complexes. The proteins then guide the microRNA in repressing the expression of certain genes. As the fruit flies age, the team found that more microRNAs attached to the Ago2 protein complex, and therefore impact age-associated events in the flies.

Grigoriev explained: "Neurodegeneration and aging go hand-in-hand, but we are the first to have shown the details of this change in regulation with aging. This tells us that there are different mechanisms of regulation in different stages of development. Is aging a byproduct of development?  I cannot tell you.  It's possible that this could be relevant for other diseases.  That's what we want to find out."

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