How can an immunosuppressant called rapamycin hold the key to anti-aging? Read the studies that highlight a supposed wonder drug against age-related diseases to find out more.
In this article:
Rapamycin Treatment: Here’s Why Experts Tout It the Secret to Longevity
What Is Rapamycin?
Rapamycin is a drug used by transplant recipients to prevent new organ rejection. Also known as rapamycin sirolimus, its mechanisms may also be a secret to suppressing aging—as aligned with Einstein’s theory of time.
It is especially prescribed to people who went through a kidney or renal transplant. In a 2007 research, it assisted patients in dealing with the loss of allografts (donor’s tissue graft).
A study in Immunological Reviews revealed it also preserves the allograft by regulating CD8+ T cells. These cells can form into specific cell types that can threaten the new organ.
Doctors may also prescribe it for a rare lung disease known as lymphangioleiomyomatosis. This condition features a progressive abnormal growth of the organ’s smooth muscles.
When Michael Hall discovered it in the 1990s, it didn’t do any of this. Instead, he and his team learned that it worked against yeast cells.
This compound comes from a soil bacteria strain in the Easter Islands. During the experiment, it prevented the yeast cells from growing.
This ability prompted him to ask an all-important question. What is in the yeast cell that rapamycin targets?
The answer led him to find the target of rapamycin (TOR), which is also present in humans. Among them, scientists call it mammalian TOR (mTOR).
It is the mTOR activity and the supposed rapamycin side effects on the mTOR pathway that makes it a possible anti-aging pill.
How the TOR Signaling Pathway Relates to Aging
One of the best discussions on the effects of rapamycin is from Dr. Alan S. Green. He’s an anti-aging doctor who now prescribes the drug to his patients.
For starters, you need to understand two essential ideas:
- The body doesn’t program aging. Instead, it’s a natural outcome of the cell’s continuous growth and development.
- It’s this proliferation, though, that results in senescent cells, which lead to aging.
Cells undergo many changes for the body to survive. They need the following to do it:
- Certain nutrients
- Amino acids
- Growth factors
They also rely on certain biological interactions and processes like phosphorylation. In phosphorylation, phosphate binds to the following:
- Proteins to form protein kinase, which is an enzyme that regulates protein activities
- Glucose or blood sugar, which produces glucose monophosphate
- Adenosine, which creates adenosine triphosphate, the energy source of the cell
In other words, this process is critical in cell growth and development. It also creates a signaling pathway that allows molecules within a cell to “talk” and control one or more cellular functions.
These proteins may also form into chains called a complex. These include mTORC1 and mTORC2.
While mTOR kinase helps the cell to grow and divide, it may continue to do so even when mitosis or the cell cycle no longer works properly. In this case, the cells become senescent.
Senescence itself isn’t bad, according to a 2017 study. It is an antagonist, which means it prevents some biological processes or functions from occurring.
One important example is its ability to stop the proliferation or spread of cancer cells (metastasis). On the downside, it can lead to the shortening of the telomeres that protect the chromosomes, or instability of the genes.
It may also eventually damage organs and tissues. These will then promote the hallmarks of aging, which include:
- Heart diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Certain forms of cancer
- Joint problems like osteoarthritis
Stopping Aging with Rapamycin
A rapamycin treatment stops aging by working as one of the mTOR inhibitors. It does this through the activation of an AKT signaling pathway.
AKT is a protein kinase that regulates many cellular processes. These include apoptosis (or cellular death), migration, and proliferation.
Rapamycin can also decrease the formation of senescent cells by threefold. This is important, as these types of cells are hyperfunctioning, or overactive.
When it does, the outcome can include:
- Increase in the number of senescent or damaged cells called hyperplasia
- Hypertrophy, or the overgrowth of such cells
Rapamycin can also:
1. Help Prevent Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndromes are a group of symptoms and conditions that raises the risk of chronic diseases. Examples include obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol levels.
Based on the theory of Blagosklonny, hyperfunctional senescent cells are tissue-specific. Take, for example, the beta cells of the pancreas.
These beta cells are the ones that produce insulin, a hormone that delivers glucose to other cells. When they become senescent, the organ produces excessive insulin.
This may eventually lead to insulin resistance and TOR of fat and liver cells. In the end, you can develop metabolic syndrome.
2. Reduce the Loss of Stem Cells
Stem cells are the types of cells that can differentiate or transform into many kinds of cells. They are essential for tissue repair or cellular regeneration.
The activation of these cells occurs in the body after an injury or infection. Ideally, only one of two should differentiate while the other remains a stem cell.
A study involving mice, though, showed that mTOR signaling can trigger both to differentiate. When TOR activity becomes chronic, stem cells decrease as you age.
By the time you’re significantly older, your body has less capability to heal or repair. It then makes signs of aging more permanent.
3. Helps Prevent Metastasis
As mentioned, senescence may be critical in preventing metastasis. A wrong activation of the mTOR signaling pathway and translation initiation, though, can do the opposite.
It may stimulate not only the origination of the tumor, but also its progression. A negative regulator called tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC1-TSC2) can inhibit the activity.
A rapamycin treatment may also provide support. But the drug itself is not the most effective drug against cancer, said a 2014 research.
Its analogs such as everolimus and temsirolimus are more successful in the clinical trials. The FDA already approved them for different types of cancers:
- Renal cell carcinoma, a kind of kidney cancer
- Tumors of the neuroendocrine system
- Mantle cell lymphoma, a type of lymphoma or cancer of the lymph nodes
Dr. Green’s article also cites how rapamycin may treat breast cancer, while a 2007 research revealed its potential role in regulating non-small cell lung cancer.
A Western blot test also showed that the drug may work against urothelial carcinoma. This refers to cancers affecting the urinary system, including the bladder and ureter.
What is Western blot analysis? It is a laboratory exam that identifies the protein molecules in a cell.
4. Induces Autophagy
Induction of autophagy is one of the crucial steps in keeping the cells healthy. It helps by:
- Removing damaged cells and unwanted proteins so that the body can create new ones
- Stimulating the production of pluripotent stem cells, which can renew themselves
Laboratory methods such as Western blotting and flow cytometry, which evaluates the characteristics of cells, can detect the rate of autophagy.
Rapamycin aids the body during autophagy by shortening the time it takes for pluripotent stem cells to differentiate. This is the finding of a 2016 research.
Many of the studies on rapamycin involve animal models like rats. It also doesn’t guarantee you won’t age.
What do you think about rapamycin and its effects on aging? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
- 7 Aging Gracefully Strategies Anyone Can Do Today
- NECROSIS VS APOPTOSIS – How Can They Affect Aging?
- Brain Fog: Top Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment