Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Lifespan Regulation by Insulin Signaling

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The onset of diabetes is highly correlated with age, suggesting that events that regulate the onset of diabetes may also regulate aging.  Remarkably, research in organisms with fewer genes than humans, such as the fruit fly and C. elegans worm, has revealed that the same genetic process regulates both diabetes and aging.  Our goal is to use this knowledge to alter the aging process without the deleterious effects of diabetes, in order to translate our findings in the laboratory to a highly functional therapeutic to combat both aging and the diseases associated with this process.

As a post-doctoral fellow in Cynthia Kenyon’s lab at UCSF I discovered that this process, called the insulin signaling pathway, controls many other processes, including aging, reproduction, stress resistance and development.

One of our most interesting findings is that this pathway can regulate these different processes at different times during the animal’s life cycle, and has the ability to be diverted to regulate one function but not others. This suggests that we should be able to alter this pathway in humans to affect the aging process, but not induce diabetes.

Our model suggests that this pathway interacts with different components at different times to accomplish various tasks. Using genetic, molecular biology, and DNA microarray approaches I plan to identify these novel components.  Once identified, it will be important to transition our work to help understand their relevance to human biology by studying animals more similar to humans.