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'Anti-epilepsy medication slows aging in worms' - study

19 January, 2005

A new study has
found that some anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) slow the rate of aging in
roundworms. This discovery, the researchers write in the journal Science, could lead to new treatment for people with epilepsy.

In the study at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, worms when exposed to drugs used to treat epilepsy in humans lived longer and retained youthful functions longer than normal.

The
study found that AEDs affect the nervous system of the worms and so now
they plan to use the worms to investigate how the drugs inhibit
seizures in people with epilepsy, which, they say, is currently not
well understood.

As the drugs affect nerve signals, the researchers suggest that the nervous system influences aging processes.

The
anti-aging effect was revealed in a random screening of 19 drugs
approved for treating a variety of disorders in humans. Senior author
Dr Kerry Kornfeld, associate professor of molecular biology and
pharmacology, said:

"We
didn't start with a hypothesis about what causes aging. We wanted to
look in an unbiased way at available compounds to see if any of them
happened to have anti-aging activity."

The
researchers grew the roundworm C. elegans in the presence of the 19
drugs and found that the AED ethosuximide extended the worms' lives
from an average of 17 days to an average of 20 days. Further tests on
AEDs revealed that they also increased life span with the drug
trimethadione having the largest effect and extending the worms' lives
by 47 per cent.

The
group then sought to uncover the reason for the effect of the AEDs. It
was apparent that the drugs did not mimic the anti-aging effects of
caloric restriction because the worms had abundant food and looked
well-fed. The researchers also demonstrated that AEDs did not extend
life by protecting the worms from bacteria in their environment.
However, ethosuximide and trimethadione did significantly delay
age-related declines in neuro-muscular activity. Treated worms
continued to display the youthful traits of fast body movement during
the latter phase of their extended lives. Further tests showed that the
AEDs stimulated transmission of signals in nerves that control body
movement.

Dr Kornfeld added:

"Our
experiments show there is an important connection between neural
function and longevity. We're continuing this line of research to
identify the precise functions of the nervous system that cause the
worms to live longer."