Study throws light on how to age slowly

Tallinn [Estonia]: A new research gives food for thought as to how to slow down age-related changes in humans. Healthy ageing has become one of the priorities of research in Europe. University of Tartu researchers looked for differences in the immune systems of young and old people. They focused on monocytes and found that the monocytes of the elderly do not seem to produce as much energy, and there is an increase in inflammation markers compared to younger people.

White blood cells or leukocytes include many cells with various tasks. To get a better understanding of exactly what these cells do, they need to be observed separately.

Therefore, researchers at the University of Tartu Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine together with colleagues from Tartu University Hospital and Estonian Genome Centre studied a specific white blood cell type - monocytes. Monocytes comprise about 5-10% of all white blood cells in human blood.

As with all other leukocytes, they originate from the hematopoietic cells of bone marrow, but they have special properties which help them fight viruses and other pathogens. They are constantly changing through life together with general changes in the organism. According to a professor of molecular immunology at the University of Tartu, Part Peterson, links between ageing and monocytes have been found before.

“For example, they are known to be associated with inflammatory processes occurring in the body. A link between monocytes and vascular calcification or atherosclerosis is also known,” said Peterson.

Vascular calcification means that, due to the deposition of dead cells, cholesterol, fatty acids and lipids, plaques are formed on the walls of arteries. Over years, these plaques become denser and make blood vessels narrower. “We found that the expression of many genes varies in the monocytes of elderly people. Changes have mainly occurred in the genes related to protein synthesis and in the work of mitochondria, i.e. the power plants of cells. It might be said that the monocytes of older people do not seem to produce as much energy as the cells of younger people,” said the professor.

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