A recent study has found that an older, commonly prescribed bipolar drug — lithium — can significant increase the lifespan of a certain type of worm.
Researchers at the Buck Institute said nematode worms treated with lithium showed a 46 percent increase in lifespan.
It is not yet known whether people taking lithium might also benefit in a similar manner with an increased lifespan.
In the study, scientists discovered the worms’ longevity increased when the lithium reduced the activity of a gene that modulates the basic structure of chromosomes.
“Understanding the genetic impact of lithium may allow us to engineer a therapy that has the same lifespan extending benefits,” said Gordon Lithgow, the lead researcher in the study. “One of the larger questions is whether the lifespan extending benefits of the drug are directly related to the fact that lithium protects neurons.”
While the process of normal aging is intrinsically linked to the onset of neuro-degenerative disease in humans, the cellular changes and events that lead to the degeneration have yet to be understood.
Dr. Lithgow stressed that studies involving compounds such as lithium could provide breakthroughs in the attempt to understand the biomedical link between aging and disease.
He and his colleagues are now surveying tens of thousands of compounds for affects on aging.
“The use of simple model organisms with well developed genetic tools can speed the identification of molecular targets. This could facilitate the development of improved therapies for diseases,” said Dr. Lithgow.
Lithium has been used for decades to treat bipolar disorder< /a>. Although the drug has been shown to protect neurons, the underlying mechanism of its therapeutic action isn’t understood.
The research is reported in the online edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.