Chinese scientists achieve a breakthrough in combating aging by discovering the spinal cord

Chinese scientists achieve a breakthrough in combating aging by discovering the spinal cord

In an interview with state-owned newspaper Science and Technology Daily, Liu said the team analyzed single cells to identify unique clusters that developed around senescent motor neurons in the spinal cords of elderly primates.

“These distinct cell populations must have a specific purpose in life. Our further investigation revealed that they secrete a ‘toxic’ protein that contributes to accelerated aging of motor neurons,” he said.

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According to the research paper, the cell clusters activate specific signals to accelerate the aging process in motor neurons by releasing a protein called chitinase-1 (CHIT1), which is normally found in very low concentrations in the human body.

The researchers found that CHIT1 can help the body fight pathogens that contain chitin, but under some circumstances it can be activated to multiply thousands of times, leading to inflammation or damage.

The study noted that an excess of this “toxic” protein in the monkeys’ cerebrospinal fluid could harm motor function and promote other signs of aging.

Although they represent only about 0.3 to 0.4 percent of all spinal cord cells, motor neurons are key players in regulating body movement. They control the body’s motor functions by directing skeletal muscles throughout the body.

“Our research also confirms that motor neurons are the most sensitive cells in the spinal cord when it comes to aging,” the newspaper said.


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While the findings were based on animal experiments, the researchers noted that increased CHIT1 was also observed in the cerebrospinal fluid and serum of elderly people, who experience similar phenomena as they age.

Scientists hope that their discovery will open the door to prevention and treatment of various age-related chronic diseases, based on the mechanisms that lead to spinal cord aging.

After identifying the ’cause’, the researchers then set out to determine whether targeting the protein could reverse the aging process in the spinal cord, which plays a critical role in the autonomic activity of essential organs as well as motor function.

According to the paper, the researchers found that this process could actually be blocked, through the activation of neutralizing antibodies – crucial “warriors” of our immune systems – which would target CHIT1, suggesting a potential strategy for developing new treatments.

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The researchers also tested whether vitamin C might play a role in reducing signs of aging. Daily nutritional supplements have been around for decades, but claims that they have anti-aging properties have not been unequivocally proven in clinical trials.

In a three-year trial, researchers tested the effects of vitamin C on 10 cynomolgus monkeys aged 17 to 18 years, who were randomly divided into two groups.

One group was given a daily dose of vitamin C at 30 mg/kg – dissolved in drinking water and given after breakfast – for 40 months. The other monkeys received the same amount of drinking water, but without the supplements, to serve as a control group.

The researchers reported a “significant” improvement in aging-related markers for the motor neurons of elderly monkeys, suggesting that oral vitamin C supplementation could be beneficial.

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The spinal cord is an extension of the central nervous system and is responsible for various motor functions in the trunk and limbs of the body. It also sends neural information between the brain and the peripheral nervous system.

Spinal cord aging can lead to a rapid decline in motor abilities in people over 60, increasing the likelihood of falls. But it is also a major contributing factor to the coexistence of many chronic diseases among older adults.

Statistics have shown that individuals over the age of 65 experience one or more falls per year on average, and 20 to 30 percent of cases result in injuries that significantly impair quality of life.

Meanwhile, aging of the spinal cord can lead to multiple dysfunctions in the body’s systems, causing problems such as irregular heartbeat, irregular blood pressure, shortness of breath, and other problems.


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Motor neurons represent “a major, and perhaps the most important, class of cells in the spinal cord,” said biologist Gu Feng, who specializes in gene editing and genetic diseases and was not involved in the study.

He said: “As people age, signs of aging appear in different ways, including in the muscles, skin and organs such as the ovaries, and what is also obvious and important is the aging of the nervous system.”

“The nervous system is a very important part when studying the mechanism of aging, and I believe their work has led to many new and valuable discoveries.”

By identifying a new cell type and subsequent potential interventions, the relatively comprehensive study holds “major implications” for future anti-aging treatments, Gu added.

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