University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have discovered a key driver of chronic inflammation that accelerates aging, a finding that could lead to longer, healthier lives and the possible prevention of age-related conditions such as deadly heart disease and devastating brain disorders.
The harmful inflammation is driven by improper calcium signaling in the mitochondria of certain immune cells, researchers found. Mitochondria are the power generators in all cells, and they rely heavily on calcium signaling.
The UVA Health researchers, led by Bimal N. Desai, found that, as we age, mitochondria in immune cells called macrophages lose their ability to take up and use calcium. This leads to chronic inflammation responsible for many of the ailments that afflict our later years.
Fixing inflammaging won’t be as simple as taking a calcium supplement. The problem isn’t a shortage of calcium so much as the macrophages’ inability to use it properly. But Desai’s new discovery has pinpointed the precise molecular machinery involved in this process, so researchers should be able to discover ways to stimulate this machinery in aging cells.
Desai said the interdisciplinary research effort – which combined computational biology, immunology, cell biology and biophysics – wouldn’t have been possible without the determination of Phil Seegren, the graduate student who spearheaded this ambitious project.
“Now, moving forward, we need an equally ambitious effort to figure out the wiring that controls this mitochondrial process in different types of macrophages and then manipulate that wiring in creative ways for biomedical impact,” Desai said.