Feb. 15, 2006— A red fountain of youth makes vertebrates, and possibly humans, live longer and feel better, according to a new study by Italian researchers on a species of short-lived fish.
Neuroscientist Alessandro Cellerino at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and colleagues report in the February issue of Current Biology that resveratrol, an organic compound found in red grapes and wine, "prolongs lifespan and retards the expression of age-dependent traits in a short-lived vertebrate."
Cellerino’s team investigated Nothobranchius furzeri, a small fish species that lives just three months in captivity.
The researchers tested different doses of resveratrol on 157 fish. Thirty fish received a small dose in their regular food, 60 received a medium dose and 20 received a large one.
A control group of 47 fish had their insect larvae meal without resveratrol. While the control and low-dose fish saw no significant benefits, the fish who received only a medium dose of the compound lived up to 27 percent longer.
Resveratrol also delayed "motor and cognitive age-related decline" in old fish. Dissection showed that the neurons in the brains of resveratrol-fed fish did not decay as quickly as those of the control group.
Resveratrol is one of a group of compounds called phytoalexins that are synthesized by plants to protect them from environmental stress, fungal infections or severe weather.
The compound, particularly concentrated in red wines, has already proved effective in prolonging the lifespan in non-vertebrates such as yeast, the worm Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila.
Acccording to David Sinclair, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School who discovered resveratrol’s life-extending properties on yeast, fungi and flies, the study is a "milestone, as it is the first example of a molecule that can greatly extend the lifespan of a vertebrate, and the first ever that works across different species, from yeast, to worms, to flies, to fish."
"I believe that resveratrol is the precursor to a new class of drugs that will one day prevent and treat numerous diseases of old age by activating the body’s own defenses against disease and aging," Sinclair told Discovery News.