SALERNO, Italy — Living to the ripe old age of 100 is much more likely for those fortunate enough to have inherited the longevity gene. But what about the rest of us? A recent study on the specific protein in that gene that reverses cardiovascular aging may one day dramatically increase the possibility of anyone becoming a centenarian.
Italian researchers behind the study say that their longevity gene therapy model offers the possibility of combating cardiovascular diseases by revitalizing blood vessels to a younger state. That could lead to longer, healthier lives for people who weren’t fortunate enough to be born with genes linked to a longer life.
Previously, the group working on this project discovered a so-called “longevity gene” because of its prevalence in humans who live to 100 years and beyond. They also identified a specific protein, known as BPIFB4, which is encoded by the gene. In this latest study, researchers inserted the gene into the DNA of mice that are especially likely to develop atherosclerosis (fatty plaque deposits on arterial walls), thus cardiovascular disease, due to a high-fat diet.
“The results were extremely encouraging,” says research team coordinator Annibale Puca, with the University of Salerno, in a media release. “We observed an improvement in the functionality of the endothelium (the inner surface of blood vessels), a reduction of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries and a decrease in the inflammatory state.”
This means that the cardiovascular systems of animal models given the “centenarian gene” were renewed to their youthful vigor.
Researchers then experimented on human blood vessels in a laboratory setting. They placed the BPIFB4 protein directly into blood vessels — and attained the same rejuvenating results.
Finally, researchers studied human patients. They found that healthier blood vessels were associated with higher levels of the longevity gene’s protein in the blood. They also found that those who already carried the gene were shown to have higher levels of the BPIFB4 protein.
The authors say the findings could be a major breakthrough in preserving heart health as we age, potentially allowing people who aren’t natural carriers of the longevity gene to live longer.
“Of course, much research will still be needed,” says Carmine Vecchione, dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Salerno, director of the Cardiology Unit at Ruggi D’Aragona Hospital. “But we think it is possible, by administering the protein to patients, to slow down cardiovascular damage due to age. In other words, even if a person does not possess those particular genetic characteristics, we could be able to offer the same level of protection.”
The team of researchers who collaborated on the study hailed from the Univerity of Salerno Medical School Department of Medicine, Surgery, and Dentistry, along with two Italian research institutes, the IRCCS Neuromed and IRCCS MultiMedica. The study was also supported by the Cariplo Foundation and the Italian Ministry of Health.
Results were published in the European Heart Journal.