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One Molecule, Many Illnesses

Researchers have identified what seems to be a molecular “switch” that controls inflammatory processes linked to a number of conditions including muscle atrophy and Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators, found that the action of the signaling molecule, nitric oxide, on the protein SIRT1, appears to be necessary for the introduction of inflammation and cell death in several aging-related disorders.

The researchers said the molecule, which “inactivates” SIRT1, believed to be a “longevity gene,” could present a single target for developing treatments for many different aging-related illnesses.

Nitric oxide has already been linked to diabetes, neurodegeneration, atherosclerosis and other aging-related diseases involving inflammation. But until this study, which was conducted using a rodent model, researchers hadn’t discovered the means by which nitric oxide wreaks its havoc.

Senior author Masao Kaneki, MD, PhD, MGH, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, said that he and his colleagues are trying to identify molecules that could inhibit the action of nitric oxide.

The findings were published in the journal Science Signaling.

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