Findings may also lead to a greater understanding of how other organs in the body age, which could pave the way for drug developments in a number of age-related diseases, including cancer.
For the first time, scientists have identified the activity of a metabolic enzyme found in the batteries of human skin cells as being key to the declines of aging.
A Newcastle University study, published online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, has found that the activity of mitochondrial complex II significantly decreases in older skin.
Mark Birch-Machin, Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University, led the pioneering study with Dr Amy Bowman from his research group.
Professor Birch-Machin said: “As our bodies age we see that the batteries in our cells run down, known as decreased bio-energy, and harmful free radicals increase.
“This process is easily seen in our skin as increased fine lines, wrinkles and sagging appears. You know the story, or at least your mirror does first thing in the morning!
“There is now a possibility of finding anti-aging treatments which can be tailored to differently aged and differently pigmented skin, and with the additional possibility to address the aging process elsewhere in our bodies.”
Enzyme activity declines with age
Complex II activity was measured in 27 donors, from aged six to 72 years. Samples were taken from a sun-protected area of skin to determine if there was a difference in activity with increasing age.
It was found that complex II activity significantly declined with age, per unit of mitochondria, in the cells derived from the lower rather than the upper levels, an observation not previously reported for human skin.
The scientists found that the reason for this is the amount of enzyme protein was decreased and furthermore this decrease was only observed in those cells that had stopped proliferating.
Dr Bowman, Research Associate at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine, said: “Newcastle University is pioneering research into aging as it has long been thought that mitochondria play an important role in the aging process, however the exact role has remained unclear.
“Our work brings us one step closer to understanding how these vital cell structures may be contributing to human aging, with the hope of eventually specifically targeting areas of the mitochondria in an attempt to counteract the signs of aging.”