Blame your mum if the years have not been kind: study says mothers pass on 'ageing gene'

Results could help in discovery of ways to slow down ageing in humans

Science Editor

Mothers play a crucial role in determining how quickly their children grow old by passing on genetic mutations that speed up the ageing process leading to a shorter lifespan, a study suggests.

Scientists have found that inherited mutations in the DNA of the mitochondria – the tiny “power packs” of the cells that are always inherited solely from mothers – can accelerate ageing in mice.

A study has shown that when mutations are artificially created in mitochondrial DNA, the resulting offspring of the affected female mice aged significantly faster than the offspring of unaffected females.

The offspring that carry the mitochondrial DNA mutations also live on average for about 45 weeks, which is about 10 weeks shorter than the offspring of unaffected females, said Professor Nils-Goran Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Max Planck Institute of Ageing in Cologne.

“The mitochondria contain their own DNA, which changes more than the DNA in the cell’s nucleus, and this has a significant impact on the ageing process. Many mutations in the mitochondria gradually disable the cell’s energy production,” Professor Larsson said.

“Surprisingly, we also show that our mother’s mitochondrial DNA seems to influence our own ageing. If we inherit mitochondrial DNA mutations from our mother, we age more quickly,” he said.

Ageing comes about as a result of an accumulation of mistakes and damage in the DNA of someone during the course of their lifetime. But the study in the journal Nature also found that inherited damage in the mitochondrial DNA is an important additional factor that influences the speed of ageing.

The offspring of female mice with mutated mitochondrial DNA not only lived shorter lives, they showed signs of rapid ageing, such as brain damage, impaired movement, enlarged hearts and cells with reduced energy metabolism.

“In essence we studied ageing and ageing is caused by the multiple types of accumulated damage. When we age we accumulate damage to the mitochondrial DNA and we’ve shown that some of this damage is actually inherited from the mother,” Professor Larsson said.

“Ageing will never be the result of one single mechanism but we are working with one of the most important factors, one of the main drivers of ageing, which is accumulated damage of the DNA of the mitochondria,” he said.

“Our findings can shed more light on the ageing process and prove that the mitochondria play a key part in ageing. They also show that it’s important to reduce the number of mutations,” Professor Larson added.

Mitochondrial DNA contains only 37 genes, compared with about 21,000 genes in the DNA of the cell’s nucleus, which is inherited equally from both mothers and fathers. However, these mitochondrial genes are vital to the metabolism of all cells in the body.

The study found that relatively mild damage to the mitochondrial DNA of female mice resulted in significant damage to the brains of their offspring, which indicated more rapid ageing compared to the offspring of unaffected females, said Jamie Ross, one of the researchers at the Karolinska.

“The study also shows that low levels of mutated mitochondrial DNA can have developmental effects and cause deformities of the brain,” Dr Ross said.

Barry Hoffer of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, a senior co-author of the study, said that the results could help in the discovery of ways to slow down ageing in humans.

“There are various dietary manipulations and drugs that can up-regulate mitochondrial function or reduce mitochondrial toxicity. An example would be antioxidants. This mouse model would be a platform to test these drugs or diets,” Dr Hoffer said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road