Mice without the gene known as FAT10 live 20 percent longer while maintaining a leaner physique, researchers reported today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
These mice displayed several markers of a fitter body: they were able to burn fat as fuel at a higher metabolic rate, and they had lower glucose and insulin levels, and less inflammation associated with obesity.
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"It appears that if you reduce inflammation, this may reduce the growth of fat tissues and therefore have a positive impact on longevity," said Allon Caanan, associate researcher in genetics at Yale and co-author of the study.
In other words, the inflammation itself may be linked with age-related weight gain and decreased life span, the researchers hypothesize.
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The researchers, who were studying the role of FAT10 in sepsis, were surprised to find that the mice lacking the gene aged more slowly than normal mice and were 50 percent leaner.
"The DNA and protein sequences of the FAT10 gene are highly conserved between man and mouse," Canaan said in a press release. "If it serves the same functions in humans, then this could be a potential target for new therapies."
Deleting the gene, though, does come with a downside: Without inflammation, the immune system doesn't kick in to ward off infections.
"It has short-term beneficial effects on survival, but for the long term we may pay a price in a sort of evolutionary tradeoff," Canaan said.