Aging and cancer: Killing two birds with one worm

Nature Genetics (Impact Factor: 29.35). 12/2007; 39(11):1306-7. DOI: 10.1038/ng1107-1306
Source: PubMed


Two new studies explore the genetic mechanisms connecting aging and tumor growth in Caenorhabditis elegans. This work should provide a basis to consider ways to prevent and treat age-dependent cancers.

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    ABSTRACT: The insulin/insulin growth factor (IGF) pathway is a critical mediator of longevity and aging. Efforts to extend longevity by altering the insulin/IGF pathway may have varying effects on other physiological processes. Reduced insulin/IGF levels may decrease the incidence of certain cancers as well as the risk of developing metastatic disease. However, it may also increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well as cardiovascular related mortality. Pursuing the right insulin/IGF pathway targets will require striking a balance between inhibiting cancer cell development and progression and avoiding damage to tissues under normal insulin/IGF-mediated control. This review will discuss the roles of the insulin/IGF pathway in aging and longevity and the development of cancer cell metastasis and considerations in taking insulin/IGF directed targets to the oncology clinic.
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    ABSTRACT: Aging is a complex phenotype responsive to a plethora of environmental inputs; yet only a limited number of transcriptional regulators are known to influence life span. How the downstream expression programs mediated by these factors (or others) are coordinated into common or distinct set of aging effectors is an addressable question in model organisms, such as C. elegans. Here, we establish the transcription factor ETS-4, an ortholog of vertebrate SPDEF, as a longevity determinant. Adult worms with ets-4 mutations had a significant extension of mean life span. Restoring ETS-4 activity in the intestine, but not neurons, of ets-4 mutant worms rescued life span to wild-type levels. Using RNAi, we demonstrated that ets-4 is required post-developmentally to regulate adult life span; thus uncoupling the role of ETS-4 in aging from potential functions in worm intestinal development. Seventy ETS-4-regulated genes, identified by gene expression profiling of two distinct ets-4 alleles and analyzed by bioinformatics, were enriched for known longevity effectors that function in lipid transport, lipid metabolism, and innate immunity. Putative target genes were enriched for ones that change expression during normal aging, the majority of which are controlled by the GATA factors. Also, some ETS-4-regulated genes function downstream of the FOXO factor, DAF-16 and the insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway. However, epistasis and phenotypic analyses indicate that ets-4 functioned in parallel to the insulin/IGF-1 receptor, daf-2 and akt-1/2 kinases. Furthermore, ets-4 required daf-16 to modulate aging, suggesting overlap in function at the level of common targets that affect life span. In conclusion, ETS-4 is a new transcriptional regulator of aging, which shares transcriptional targets with GATA and FOXO factors, suggesting that overlapping pathways direct common sets of lifespan-related genes.
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