Telomeres (yellow) on human chromosomes. Image courtesy of Michael West.
Caught short with a cold
Telomeres are the “caps” that sit at the ends of chromosomes in every cell, protecting vital DNA sequences from damage. Think of them as extended bumpers. Over the years, a number of studies have linked shorter telomeres to everything from aging to aging-related conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they’ve found evidence that shorter telomeres affect the well-being of relatively young, healthy people too. These people, the scientists write in JAMA, have a higher risk of catching a cold.
The researchers looked at 152 healthy adults, ages 18 to 55, living in and around Pittsburgh. They took blood samples and measured the telomere lengths in leukocytes, white blood cells involved in the immune response. Then they put the participants in quarantine and exposed them to a virus that causes the common cold.
More than two-thirds of the volunteers – 105 people, 69 percent – became infected with the virus; 33 actually developed colds. When researchers compared telomere measurements with who got sick, they found that, generally speaking, shorter telomeres in four types of blood cells were associated with a higher risk of infection. Most notably in a type of T-cell (another kind of immune response cell known as a lymphocyte) called CD8CD28. The link between shorter telomeres and catching a cold became stronger with increasing age in the study subjects.
The researchers speculate that T-cells with shorter telomeres don’t proliferate as well as T-cells with longer telomeres, making them less effective at removing virus-infected cells.
“A provocative possibility is that telomere length is a very stable marker of disease susceptibility, with associations between telomere length and clinical outcomes beginning to emerge in early adulthood,” the authors wrote.
It’s too early to know how this basic research will translate clinically. Lots of folks have suggested that maintaining telomere health is akin to maintaining overall well-being.
That remains to be proven conclusively, but it does beg the obvious question: How do I keep my telomeres long and healthy? Alas, shortening appears to be part of the aging process (every time a cell divides its DNA for replication, it’s telomeres shorten too), but there is some evidence to suggest that things like reduced stress and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids might slow the shortening process or generally boost cellular health.
Carta de Víctor Hugo, celebre autor de “El Jorobado de Notre Dame” y “Los Miserables” a Benito Juárez, 20 de junio de 1867, solicitando el perdón a Maximiliano pero reconociendo el triunfo de la República y el mérito de Juárez en la defensa de su patria.
Leech neurons stained with voltage-sensitive dye.
Top UCSD Health Sciences stories of 2012
The results are in from our first-ever faculty survey of the top UC San Diego Health Sciences stories for 2012.
Faculty were asked to pick their top three stories from 15 choices culled from the dozens of news reports and releases produced last year by the UC San Diego Health Sciences Marketing & Communications office.
The top spot went to Mark Tuszynski’s paper, published in the September 14 issue of Cell, in which he and colleagues were able to regenerate axonal growth at the site of severe spinal injury in rats using neural stem cells. The work has obvious implications for efforts to develop therapies to restore central nervous system and motor function.
In second place was a PNAS paper out of Roger Tsien’s lab which reported creating a new generation of fast-acting fluorescent dyes that optically highlight electrical activity in neuronal membranes. The achievement will help scientists better decipher how brain cells function and interact.
In third place was research by a multi-institution team, headed by Sharon Reed in the UC San Diego Departments of Pathology and Medicine and James McKerrow at the UC San Francisco Sandler Center for Drug Discovery, that identified an existing drug was also effective against Entamoeba histolytica. This parasite causes amebic dysentery and liver abscesses and results in the death of more than 70,000 people worldwide each year. The findings were published in the June issue of Nature Medicine.
You can read more about all of the 2012 selections below.
Fast-acting dyes highlight membrane activities of neurons (R. Tsien, E. Miller, et al.)
Researchers induce functional Alzheimer’s neurons in vitro from pluripotent stem cells (L. Goldstein, et al.)
New weight loss surgery folds stomach into smaller size (S. Horgan, et al.)
New surgical technique may reverse paralysis, restore use of hand (J. Brown, et al.)
New technology pinpoints source of irregular heart rhythms, improves treatment (S. Narayan, et al.)
Novel enzyme target identified for anti-malarial drug development (L. Bode, et al.)
New method indentifies whether leukemia will be aggressive or slow-moving (T. Kipps, et al.)
Patterns in adolescent brains could predict heavy alcohol use (S. Tapert, et al.)
Potency of statins linked to muscle pain and weakness (B. Golomb, et al.)
Neural stem cells regenerate axons in severe spinal cord injury (M. Tuszynski, et al.)
New way of fighting high cholesterol upends assumptions (C. Glass, et al.)
Blocking tumor-induced inflammation impacts cancer development (M. Karin, et al.)
Study finds potential new drug therapy for Crohn’s disease (W. Sanborn, et al.)