Mitochondria, the power houses of every cell, may be responsible for how we age
If those fine lines on your face appear to be multiplying, it may be that your mother is to blame.
Scientists have found a set of genes passed down only by mothers that appear to influence the ageing process.
When the inherited DNA is defective, the result is premature ageing – not only wrinkles but a shorter lifespan – a study says.
The researchers discovered that damage to our mitochondria – the tiny powerhouses in our cells that turn the food we eat into energy – speeds up age-related conditions.
Teams from Sweden and Germany found the ageing process is influenced not only by the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) damage during a person’s lifetime, but also by any genetic mutations inherited from their mother.
Normal and damaged DNA is passed down from generation to generation.
But while the DNA that influences how we develop comes from both parents and is held within a cell nucleus, the genes in mitochondria are entirely separate and come only from our mother.
Following experiments on mice, the researchers found defective mDNA can result in serious genetic diseases. But even mild inherited damage can accelerate the ageing process.
Writing in the journal Nature, lead researcher Professor Nils-Goran Larsson from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said: ‘Our mother’s mitochondrial DNA seems to influence our own ageing. If we inherit mDNA with mutations from our mother, we age more quickly.
‘Ageing is the accumulation of various types of cell damage. Much of the damage will be a result of environmental and lifestyle factors, which means the inheriting mDNA damage can never be the only explanation for ageing. But it is an important part of the ageing process.’
Defective mDNA is implicated in a host of age-related diseases such as heart problems, diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions including dementia. Over the course of our lifetime mDNA is more susceptible to damage than normal DNA, the researchers said.
When inherited mutations are added to those that occur naturally, it can cause us to age prematurely.
Ageing comes about as a result of damage to the body’s cells, making it more likely for an individual to suffer from an age-related disease or condition such as cancer, heart problems – as well as wrinkles.
Professor Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University, an expert on mitochondria, said: ‘This is very interesting. The genes you inherit can have some effect on the ageing process, but the most important factor still remains your lifestyle.’
Although damaged mDNA passed down from a mother to children could influence the ageing process, it is still unclear to what extent. But the research could help scientists find ways to slow the ageing process in humans using drug treatments, diets or supplements.
A co-author of the study, Dr Barry Hoffer of Case Western Reserve Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said various foods and drugs can counter mitochondrial damage, including antioxidants.