How Genetics Affects the Aging Process

Genetically determined growth differentiation factor hormone affected aging process

It's trite but true that your genetic inheritance affects the aging process, and now there's new information on exactly how it happens.

A new study from the University of Georgia found that the hormone levels that affect aging are determined by genetics.

Although we all get older, scientists have tried for years to determine exactly how the process works.

Previous studies have indicated that hormones affect aging. For example, levels of a hormone called growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF 11) gradually decrease over time. In mice that were given GDF 11, scientists found that signs of heart disease, muscle and brain aging could be reversed.

“Finding that GDF11 levels are under genetic control is of significant interest," said Rob Pazdro, PhD, in a press release. "Since it is under genetic control, we can find the genes responsible for GDF11 levels and its changes with age.”

Dr. Pazdro is the senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Pazdro and his colleagues used 22 mice strains for their research. The mice were bred to have many different kinds of genes.

The researchers found that GDF 11 levels gradually decreased over time. By middle age, most of the depletion has already occurred. In addition, Dr. Pazdro found that mice with the highest GDF 11 levels tended to live the longest.

The researchers then used gene mapping to identify seven genes that might determine GDF 11 levels in middle age. The team plans to find out why GDF levels drop later in life and whether they can be prevented from dropping.

“Essentially, we found a missing piece of the aging/genetics puzzle,” Dr. Pazdro said in the press release. “Very generally, we’ve made an important step toward learning about aging and why we age and what are the pathways that drive it. It’s the first step down a long road, but it’s an important step.”

The study was published in the January issue of Journals of Gerontology Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.