Longer-lived rodents benefit from more of protein’s signals

SAN ANTONIO (March 17, 2015) — The world’s longest-lived rodents don’t eat broccoli, but they have the protection of a protein that, in humans, is activated by consumption of steamed broccoli. A new study from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio indicates this.

Researchers from the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the Health Science Center measured signaling of the protein (called Nrf2) in 10 rodent species that widely differ in their maximum life span potential and include the age-defying naked mole rat.

Barshop Institute researchers led by Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D., professor of physiology in the Health Science Center School of Medicine, are studying the naked mole rat and other rodent species to find out why the naked mole rat is a cut above the rest and lives so long, doesn’t develop cancer and remains healthy almost to the end of its extraordinarily long life span. Naked mole rats have a maximum life span of 32 years — eight to 10 times longer than the oldest mice of comparable size.

Kaitlyn Lewis, graduate student in the Buffenstein laboratory, is lead author on the study that found Nrf2 protein signaling is highest in the naked mole rat, and that the protective signaling afforded by this master regulator of cellular protection is positively correlated with the maximum life span in all 10 rodent species. Moreover, she observed that this signaling activity is well regulated by several other proteins rather than the absolute amounts of Nrf2. “These interacting proteins degrade Nrf2 and prevent it from upregulating gene expression of certain protective molecules, which results in diminished signaling and shorter life span,” Lewis said.

“We think that targeting these negative regulators of Nrf2 could yield potentially interesting results in longevity and life span-extending drugs,” Dr. Buffenstein said.

In the meantime, Dr. Buffenstein suggested that changing our diets to eat more broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage can increase our Nrf2 activity and may provide some of the same protective mechanisms observed in these healthy long-lived rodents.

So, the take-home message is it’s always good to eat our broccoli.

The paper came out the week of March 9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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