Antiaging proteins have long been shown to protect against age-related diseases, such as cancer, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease. A study now reveals that one such protein could also be targeted to rejuvenate cells in the immune system. The protein in question is called SIRT1, more commonly known for being activated by red wine. The scientists found that it is also involved in how cells in the immune system develop with age. They wanted to find out how this antiaging protein affects a specific category of immune cells known as cytotoxic T cells. These cells are highly specialized guardians of the immune system and their role is to kill cells infected by a virus, damaged cells or cancer cells. Based on a better understanding of the crucial role played by SIRT1 in the aging of T cells, the researchers identified two potential new drug targets. First, new drugs could be developed to strengthen SIRT1 to rejuvenate mature cytotoxic T cells or keep them from progressing too quickly into a highly toxic state. Alternatively, drugs could be used to obtain the opposite effect and encourage the T cells to be more toxic. By temporarily making young T cells more aggressive and behave like mature cells, they could, for example, support an aggressive anti-tumor response or other immune therapeutic approaches.
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