Cells That “Think” They’re Not Consuming Glucose May Hold a Key to Longer Lifespan

Canadian scientists studying the effects of glucose on cellular aging have discovered an unusual effect that could change how doctors treat diabetes and even address the human lifespan. 

It appears that if a cell on a glucose-rich diet does not  “think” it is consuming glucose, it lives longer than cells on a reduced-glucose diet. The key to this finding by researchers at the University of Montreal is the presence of a genetically created sensor in the cell that tells it that it is receiving glucose. If the sensor is removed, the cell proceeds as though there is no glucose available for it to metabolize. In other words, the presence of glucose is almost immaterial if the cell does not act as though glucose is present.

The finding came from a study on aging that was looking to see how glucose-reduced diets affect cellular lifespan. Scientists have long known that severely restricted caloric intake can increase the lifespan of laboratory mice by as much as 40 percent. Because glucose intake is drastically reduced when subjects consume perhaps only 50 percent of their caloric intake, the scientists asked whether the reduction in glucose alone could account for the increase in lifespan. Their question was based on the observation that even if the amount of glucose a cell metabolizes is reduced, the byproducts of metabolization are still thought to be major factors in the aging process. 

Using yeast cells, which are much like human cells in many respects, the Canadian researchers asked what would happen if they removed the ability of cells to detect glucose by taking away their built-in glucose sensors. The result was that such sensor-deprived cells lived longer than their low-glucose-diet counterparts.

Indirectly, the scientists’ findings confirm that the over-consumption of sugar can decrease lifespan because of the toxic byproducts its metabolization produces. On the other hand, if scientists can eventually manipulate cells to “think” that they are not receiving sugar, it could help people with such metabolic disorders as diabetes overcome the effects of chronically high glucose levels.

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