Researchers have identified 17 new gene variants associated with a longer lifespan – increasing their numbers from the existing eight to 25. The results, published in the journal Aging NY, confirm that many genetic variants – not one — combine to influence human lifespan.
With the new research, the number of genes we know influence lifespan has expanded, potentially paving the way for new therapeutic targets to prolong life.
“We have identified new pathways that contribute to survival, as well as confirming others. These targets, including inflammatory and cardiovascular pathways, offer potentially modifiable targets to reduce the risk of an earlier death and improve health,” said Luke Pilling from the University of Exeter Medical School in England.
How long we live is determined by a range of factors including our lifestyle and how well we treat factors including blood pressure and cholesterol from midlife. However, genetics, and how long our parental relatives lived, also plays a role.
The study undertook a genome-wide search for variants influencing how long participants’ parents lived. The team studied 389,166 volunteers.
The DNA samples from the volunteers carry the genetics of their biological parents and provide a practical way of studying exceptionally long lifespans. The researchers found that genes involved in senescence, the ‘frozen’ state that cells enter into after being damaged, played an important role in longevity.
Genes related to inflammation and auto-immunity related genes were also prominent, opening up the possibility that precision anti-inflammatory treatments may one day be helpful in extending life.
A genetic risk score combining the top ten variants was statistically associated with parents being centenarians, the study said.
“This study helps open the way to novel treatment, but the strong role for genes affecting heart disease risk again underlines the importance of controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels throughout the lifespan,” said lead researcher David Melzer, Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School.
“Of course, adopting healthy lifestyles is important, and can probably overcome the negative effects of most of the genes found so far,” Melzer said.