Summary: Researchers say a gene found in many centenarians can reverse the biological age of the heart by ten years. The findings offer a potential target for patients with heart failure.
Source: University of Bristol
An anti-aging gene discovered in a population of centenarians has been shown to rewind the heart’s biological age by 10 years.
The breakthrough, published in Cardiovascular Research and led by scientists at the University of Bristol and the MultiMedica Group in Italy, offers a potential target for patients with heart failure.
Associated with exceptional longevity, carriers of healthy mutant genes, like those living in blue zones of the planet, often live to 100 years or more and remain in good health. These individuals are also less prone to cardiovascular complications.
Scientists funded by the British Heart Foundation believe the gene helps to keep their hearts young by protecting them against diseases linked to aging, such as heart failure.
In this new study, researchers demonstrate that one of these healthy mutant genes, previously proved particularly frequent in centenarians, can protect cells collected from patients with heart failure requiring cardiac transplantation.
The Bristol team, led by Professor Paolo Madeddu, has found that a single administration of the mutant anti-aging gene halted the decay of heart function in middle-aged mice.
Even more remarkably, when given to elderly mice, whose hearts exhibit the same alterations observed in elderly patients, the gene rewound the heart’s biological clock age by the human equivalent of more than ten years.
Professor Madeddu, Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine from Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol and one of the study’s authors, explained: “The heart and blood vessel function is put at stake as we age.
“However, the rate at which these harmful changes occur is different among people. Smoking, alcohol, and sedentary life make the aging clock faster. Whereas eating well and exercising delay the heart’s aging clock.
“In addition, having good genes inherited from parents can help to stay young and healthy. Genes are sequences of letters that encode proteins. By chance, some of these letters can mutate. Most of these mutations are insignificant; in a few cases, however, the mutation can make the gene function worse or better, like for the mutant anti-aging gene we have studied here on human cells and older mice.”
The three-year study was also performed in test tube human cardiac cells in Italy. Researchers from the MultiMedica Group in Milan led by Professor Annibale Puca, administered the gene in heart cells from elderly patients with severe heart problems, including transplantation, and then compared their function with those of healthy individuals.
Monica Cattaneo, a researcher of the MultiMedica Group in Milan, Italy, and first author of the work said: “The cells of the elderly patients, in particular those that support the construction of new blood vessels, called ‘pericytes’, were found to be less performing and more aged.
“By adding the longevity gene/protein to the test tube, we observed a process of cardiac rejuvenation: the cardiac cells of elderly heart failure patients have resumed functioning properly, proving to be more efficient in building new blood vessels.”
Centenarians pass their healthy genes to their offspring. The study demonstrates for the first time that a healthy gene found in centenarians could be transferred to unrelated people to protect their hearts.
Other mutations might be found in the future with similar or even superior curative potential than the one investigated by this research. Professor Madeddu and Professor Annibale Puca of the MultiMedica Group in Milan believe this study may fuel a new wave of treatments inspired by the genetics of centenarians.
Professor Madeddu added: “Our findings confirm the healthy mutant gene can reverse the decline of heart performance in older people. We are now interested in determining if giving the protein instead of the gene can also work. Gene therapy is widely used to treat diseases caused by bad genes. However, a treatment based on a protein is safer and more viable than gene therapy.
“We have received funding from the Medical Research Council to test healthy gene therapy in Progeria. This genetic disease, also known as Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome, causes early aging damage to children’s hearts and blood vessels. We have also been funded by the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK to test the protein in older and diabetic mice, respectively.”
Annibale Puca, Head of the laboratory at the IRCCS MultiMedica and Professor at the University of Salerno, added: “Gene therapy with the healthy gene in mouse models of disease has already been shown to prevent the onset of atherosclerosis, vascular aging, and diabetic complications, and to rejuvenate the immune system.
“We have a new confirmation and enlargement of the therapeutic potential of the gene/protein. We hope to test its effectiveness soon in clinical trials on patients with heart failure.”
Professor James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: “We all want to know the secrets of aging and how we might slow down age-related disease. Our heart function declines with age but this research has extraordinarily revealed that a variant of a gene that is commonly found in long-lived people can halt and even reverse aging of the heart in mice.
“This is still early-stage research, but could one day provide a revolutionary way to treat people with heart failure and even stop the debilitating condition from developing in the first place.”
The longevity-associated BPIFB4 gene supports cardiac function and vascularization in aging cardiomyopathy
The aging heart naturally incurs a progressive decline in function and perfusion that available treatments cannot halt. However, some exceptional individuals maintain good health until the very late stage of their life due to favourable gene-environment interaction. We have previously shown that carriers of a longevity-associated variant (LAV) of the BPIFB4 gene enjoy prolonged health spans and lesser cardiovascular complications. Moreover, supplementation of LAV-BPIFB4 via an adeno-associated viral vector improves cardiovascular performance in limb ischemia, atherosclerosis, and diabetes models. Here, we asked if the LAV-BPIFB4 gene could address the unmet therapeutic need to delay the heart’s spontaneous aging.
Methods and Results
Immunohistological studies showed a remarkable reduction in vessel coverage by pericytes in failing hearts explanted from elderly patients. This defect was attenuated in patients carrying the homozygous LAV-BPIFB4 genotype. Moreover, pericytes isolated from older hearts showed low levels of BPIFB4, depressed pro-angiogenic activity, and loss of ribosome biogenesis. LAV-BPIFB4 supplementation restored pericyte function and pericyte-endothelial cell interactions through a mechanism involving the nucleolar protein nucleolin. Conversely, BPIFB4 silencing in normal pericytes mimed the heart failure pericytes. Finally, gene therapy with LAV-BPIFB4 prevented cardiac deterioration in middle-aged mice and rescued cardiac function and myocardial perfusion in older mice by improving microvasculature density and pericyte coverage.
We report the success of the LAV-BPIFB4 gene/protein in improving homeostatic processes in the heart’s aging. These findings open to using LAV-BPIFB4 to reverse the decline of heart performance in older people.