Thursday, February 17, 2011

Laron-type Dwarfism and Longevity

The NY Times has this interesting story about villagers in remote parts of Ecuador that have a type of dwarfism and are almost completely immune to cancer and diabetes. A sample from the story:

A group of 99 villagers with Laron syndrome has been studied for 24 years by Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, an Ecuadorean physician and diabetes specialist. He discovered them when traveling on horseback to a roadless mountain village....As Dr. Guevara-Aguirre accumulated health data on his patients, he noticed a remarkable pattern: though cancer was frequent among people who did not have the Laron mutation, those who did have it almost never got cancer. And they never developed diabetes, even though many were obese, which often brings on the condition.

....This is where the physiology of the Laron patients links up with the longevity studies that researchers have been pursuing with laboratory animals. IGF-1 is part of an ancient signaling pathway that exists in the laboratory roundworm as well as in people. The gene that makes the receptor for IGF-1 in the roundworm is called DAF-2. And worms in which this gene is knocked out live twice as long as normal.

The story is based on this recent paper in Science Translational Medicine. Here is the abstract of the paper:

Mutations in growth signaling pathways extend life span, as well as protect against age-dependent DNA damage in yeast and decrease insulin resistance and cancer in mice. To test their effect in humans, we monitored for 22 years Ecuadorian individuals who carry mutations in the growth hormone receptor (GHR) gene that lead to severe GHR and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor–1) deficiencies. We combined this information with surveys to identify the cause and age of death for individuals in this community who died before this period. The individuals with GHR deficiency exhibited only one nonlethal malignancy and no cases of diabetes, in contrast to a prevalence of 17% for cancer and 5% for diabetes in control subjects. A possible explanation for the very low incidence of cancer was suggested by in vitro studies: Serum from subjects with GHR deficiency reduced DNA breaks but increased apoptosis in human mammary epithelial cells treated with hydrogen peroxide. Serum from GHR-deficient subjects also caused reduced expression of RAS, PKA (protein kinase A), and TOR (target of rapamycin) and up-regulation of SOD2 (superoxide dismutase 2) in treated cells, changes that promote cellular protection and life-span extension in model organisms. We also observed reduced insulin concentrations (1.4 μU/ml versus 4.4 μU/ml in unaffected relatives) and a very low HOMA-IR (homeostatic model assessment–insulin resistance) index (0.34 versus 0.96 in unaffected relatives) in individuals with GHR deficiency, indicating higher insulin sensitivity, which could explain the absence of diabetes in these subjects. These results provide evidence for a role of evolutionarily conserved pathways in the control of aging and disease burden in humans.