Science/Tech

Anti-Aging Potential Found In Immunosuppressant Drug

A group of scientists recently turned their focus on testing whether rapamycin, a drug that has served as an immune suppressor for many years, can also be effective in treating both cancer and neurodegeneration. In addition, scientists are also testing the drug’s anti-aging potential.

The drug was first “discovered” back in the 1960s when a group of scientists visited an island, looking for new antimicrobials. The group then discovered that the island’s actual soil has bacteria that contain "a compound with remarkable antifungal, immunosuppressive, and antitumor properties." This soon came to be known as the drug rapamycin, named after Rapa Nui, the island where it came from.

For decades, the drug has been used as an immune suppressor, with scientists believing that the drug performs best when it’s blocking its appropriately named mechanistic target mTOR. However, scientists have also suspected that its use goes far beyond that.

To realize this, the scientists uncovered a secondary cell target for the drug, which revealed its potential as a neuroprotective and anti-aging agent.

Anti-aging potential

Per the research, the second target is a protein called the transient receptor potential mucolipin 1 (TRPML1). Usually, this protein “sits” on top of lysosomes, acting as a channel for calcium ions by sending signals that control how the lysosomes will function.

Targeting this protein appeared to start a recycling process that effectively stopped cells from getting clogged with waste materials, as well as faulty proteins, which is a characteristic of aging. Furthermore, it’s also one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Led by Haoxing Xu, who supervises a laboratory in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan, the team published their findings in a recent PLOS Biology paper.

"The identification of a new target of rapamycin offers an insight in developing the next generation of rapamycin, which will have a more specific effect on neurodegenerative disease," says co-lead study author Wei Chen, who works in Xu's laboratory.

More research needs to be done for now. However, the researchers believe that lysosomal TRPML1 can contribute significantly to the neuroprotective and anti-aging effects of rapamycin .

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