Photo: Flickr/Daniella Segura
A natural ingredient found in red wine, resveratrol, can help fight off diseases associated with age, a new study shows.Resveratrol, found in the skin of grapes, has long been touted for its anti-ageing properties.
Researchers are studying this natural compound to help them design better anti-ageing drugs.
They think it works by increasing the activity of sirtuins, a family of proteins found throughout the body, which are believed to combat diseases related to getting older, like type 2 diabetes, cancer or Alzheimer’s. Specifically, resveratrol increases the activity of SIRT1, which acts to make our mitochondria — the cell part that turns food into energy in our cells — more efficient, the study says.
The direct link between resveratrol and the SIRT1 protein has been made before, both by the lead author of this latest paper, Harvard genetics professor David Sinclair, and others.
Sinclair published a paper in 2012 showing that mice that do not have the SIRT1 gene do not receive the benefits of resveratrol. He produced similar results in yeast in a 2003 study. The problem was that the proteins they used in the original test (in order to see the experiment working) do not naturally occur in animals or humans. And, they weren’t able to figure out which part of the protein resveratrol binds to.
Photo: David Sinclair, Harvard Medical School
That’s what they’ve found in the new study, published online Thursday, March 7, in the journal Science. This discovery conclusively proves that the interaction between resveratrol and SIRT1 is one of the ways red wine has its positive effects, the researchers claim.
“There is no rational alternative explanation other than resveratrol directly activates SIRT1 in cells,” Sinclair said in a statement. “Now that we know the exact location on SIRT1 where and how resveratrol works, we can engineer even better molecules that more precisely and effectively trigger the effects of resveratrol,” which will then allow them to design better anti-ageing drugs.
As a side note, Sinclair is a co-founder and scientific advisor of a company that’s developing synthetic resveratrol molecules to treat diseases related to age, called Sitris Pharmaceuticals.
The researchers screened for SIRT1 mutant proteins and found one that had a change in its amino acid (the building blocks of a protein) sequence that made it not respond to resveratrol in a test tube experiment. In the next step, researchers tested how these mutated proteins reacted to resveratrol in muscle and skin cells of lab mice, compared to normal SIRT1 proteins. When given resveratrol, mitochondrial function was boosted in the cell with regular SIRT1 proteins but not those with the mutant protein.
“We discovered a signature for activation that is in fact found in the cell and doesn’t require these other synthetic groups,” co-author Basil Hubbard said in a press release. “This was a critical result, which allowed us to bridge the gap between our biochemical and physiological findings.”
Matt Kaeberlein, a biochemist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved with the study, is cautious of the finding. “This is a nice mechanistic advance in our understanding of how resveratrol and other STACs ( (SIRT1 activating compounds) influence SIRT1 activity,” he told us via e-mail. “It certainly does NOT provide conclusive evidence that resveratrol activates SIRT1 in animals, although it’s consistent with that model. There is no data here regarding age-related diseases or whether sirtuins are good targets for drug development,” he wrote.
Researchers suggest that SIRT1 is not the only protein affected by resveratrol. The molecule may bind to other proteins that have positive effects on metabolism, which can aid its anti-ageing properties.
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