A new study suggests that cold temperatures activate a cellular cleansing mechanism that breaks down harmful protein aggregations linked to various diseases associated with aging.
Previous studies have shown that life expectancy increases when body temperature is lowered, but the precise mechanism behind this has not been fully understood.
A research team at the University of Cologne has now found one such mechanism.
The researchers used a non-vertebrate model organism, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and cultivated human cells that carried the genes for two neurodegenerative diseases that typically occur in old age:
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease.
In both model organisms, the cold actively removed the protein clumps that cause pathological protein aggregations in these diseases.
Specifically, the researchers explored the impact of cold on the activity of proteasomes, a cellular mechanism that removes damaged proteins from cells.
They found that the proteasome activator PA28γ/PSME3 mitigated the deficits caused by aging in both the nematode and the human cells.
It was possible to activate proteasome activity through a moderate decrease in temperature.
The study has important implications for aging and aging-associated diseases, as aging is a major risk factor for several neurodegenerative diseases associated with protein aggregation, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and ALS.
The researchers believe that these results may be applied to other age-related neurodegenerative diseases as well as to other animal species.
The study also showed that the proteasome activity can be increased by genetic overexpression of the activator, even at the normal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius.
This may provide therapeutic targets for aging and aging-associated diseases.
While extremely low temperatures can be harmful to organisms, a moderate reduction in body temperature can have positive effects.
For example, a lower body temperature prolongs the longevity of cold-blooded animals like worms, flies, or fish, whose body temperature fluctuates with the temperature of the environment.
The same phenomenon also applies to mammals, who maintain their body temperature within a narrow range no matter how cold or warm their environment is.
For example, a slight decrease in body temperature of just 0.5 degrees significantly extends the lifespan of mice.
This supports the assumption that temperature reduction plays a central role in longevity in the animal kingdom and is a well-conserved evolutionary mechanism.
Even in humans, a correlation between body temperature and lifespan has been reported. Normal human body temperature is between 36.5 and 37 degrees Celsius.
While an acute drop in body temperature below 35 degrees leads to hypothermia, human body temperature fluctuates slightly during the day and even reaches a cool 36 degrees during sleep.
Interestingly, a previous study reported that human body temperature has steadily declined by 0.03 degrees Celsius per decade since the Industrial Revolution.
This suggests a possible link to the progressive increase in human life expectancy over the last 160 years.
The research was conducted at the University of Cologne’s CECAD Cluster of Excellence in Aging Research.
The findings suggest that even a slight decrease in body temperature can have significant health benefits and may provide new avenues for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging.
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The study was conducted by Hyun Ju Lee et al and published in Nature Aging.
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