Protein that boosts longevity may protect against diabetes

MIT biology professor Leonard Guarente '74 discovered SIRT1's longevity-boosting properties more than a decade ago and has since explored its role in many different body tissues.

 
Leonard Guarente, the Novartis Professor of Biology at MIT, Photo: M. Scott Brauer

In his latest study, appearing in the 8 August print edition of the journal Cell Metabolism, he looked at what happens when the SIRT1 protein is missing from adipose cells, which make up body fat.

When put on a high-fat diet, mice lacking the protein started to develop metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, much sooner than normal mice given a high-fat diet.

''We see them as being poised for metabolic dysfunction,'' says Guarente, the Novartis Professor of Biology at MIT. ''You've removed one of the safeguards against metabolic decline, so if you now give them the trigger of a high-fat diet, they're much more sensitive than the normal mouse.''

The finding raises the possibility that drugs that enhance SIRT1 activity may help protect against obesity-linked diseases.

Guarente first discovered the effects of SIRT1 and other sirtuin proteins while studying yeast in the 1990s. Since then, these proteins have been shown to coordinate a variety of hormonal networks, regulatory proteins and other genes, helping to keep cells alive and healthy.