Your mother's genes can hasten your own ageing process

Published 2013-08-21 00:00. Updated 2014-02-14 16:45Denna sida på svenska

When we age, our cells change and become damaged. Now, researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging have shown that ageing is determined not only by the accumulation of cell damage during our lifetime but also by the genetic material we acquire from our mothers. The results of the study are published in the scientific periodical Nature.

There are many causes of ageing, a process that is determined by an accumulation of various kinds of cell damage that impair the function of bodily organs. Of particular importance to ageing, however, seems to be the damage that occurs in the cell's power plant – the mitochondrion.

"The mitochondrion contains its own DNA, which changes more than the DNA in the nucleus, and this has a significant impact on the ageing process. Many mutations in the mitochondria gradually disable the cells energy production," says Nils-Göran Larsson, professor at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet and principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging, and leader of the current study alongside Professor Lars Olson at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. 

Now, however, the researchers have shown that the ageing process is attributable not only to the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA damage during a person's lifetime, but also to their maternally inherited DNA.

"Surprisingly, we also show that our mothers mitochondrial DNA seems to influence our own ageing," says Professor Larsson. "If we inherit mDNA with mutations from our mother, we age more quickly."

Normal and damaged DNA is passed down from generation to generation. However, the question of whether it is possible to affect the degree of mDNA damage through, for example, lifestyle intervention is yet to be investigated; all that the researchers know now is that mild DNA damage is transferred from the mother and contributes to the ageing process. The data published in the paper come from experiments on mice. The researchers now intend to continue their work on mice, and on fruit flies, to investigate whether reducing the number of mutations can extend their lifespan.


Germline mitochondrial DNA mutations aggravate ageing and can impair brain development.
Ross J, Stewart J, Hagström E, Brené S, Mourier A, Coppotelli G, et al
Nature 2013 Sep;501(7467):412-5