Males with a singular genetic mutation are likely to live about 10 years longer than their peers without the change, shows a new study appearing in the journal Science Advances.
Researchers have linked a mutation in the growth hormone receptor (GHR) gene to longer life in a number of populations, ranging from Ashkenazi Jews to Pennsylvania Amish.
“Our study provides the first consistent evidence linking the GHR to human longevity,” report the study authors from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and other institutions.
The authors believe that their findings may support interventions on a genetic level that can impact the human lifespan.
“These results may have implications in devising precision medicine strategies, such as GH-related interventional therapies in the elderly,” the authors write.
The new findings come as one of the first clear associations between a population’s genetic makeup and overall lifespan. Much previous work on population-level DNA has come up empty.
“It’s been a real disappointment,” Nir Barzilai, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who led the current study, told the New York Times.
Yet researchers have begun to take cues from approachable physical evidence, rather than first burrowing deep into the genome to try to find the magical gene that’s tied to a longer life.
Related: Running May Increase Life Expectancy
“If you look at dogs, flies, mice, whatever it is, smaller lives longer,” Gil Atzmon, a geneticist at the University of Haifa in Israel, explained to the New York Times.
That observation has led researchers to investigate growth hormone, a substance created in the brain that is directly tied to human growth and size. At a microscopic level, growth hormone attaches to cell molecules via the growth hormone receptor, and this connection guides the ability of the body to keep — or stop — growing.
The next step in comparing a person’s size to longevity took the researchers on a course through history.
Mining Population Data
The researchers decided to investigate a specific population — Ashkenazi Jews (AJ), whose history gave the researchers something of a clean slate from which to work.
“To a large extent, this population exhibits both cultural and genetic homogeneity. For these reasons, the AJ population has been successfully used in the discovery of many disease-associated genes,” report the study authors.
Among this population, most of whom were born or migrated to the United States in the years preceding World War II, the link between the GHR gene and longevity held true — the genetic mutation was present in about 12 percent of men who were over the age of 100. Among those 70 years old, the rate of the GHR mutation was about three times less.
When observing data from an Amish population in Pennsylvania and a group of notably long-living people in France, the researchers found the same genetic trends — the GHR mutation was again linked to longevity.
“Although numerous genes have been shown to influence longevity, certain genes … appear to affect life span across diverse organisms,” conclude the researchers, who believe that plausible therapies are not too far off.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.