Researchers from the Salk Institute and the University of California San Diego have identified a new factor contributing to the aging process, paving the way for advancements in treating neurodegenerative disorders.
The team found that a class of lipids — or fats — known as SGDGs (3-sulfogalactosyl diacylglycerols) appear to possess anti-inflammatory qualities. As humans age, these lipids diminish in the brain, reducing protection against inflammation.
The revelation, which was published on October 20, 2022, in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology, will help expand the understanding of the mechanism that drives age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
According to one of the study’s authors, Alan Saghatelian, professor in Salk’s Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology and holder of the Dr. Frederik Paulsen Chair, “These SGDGs clearly play an important role in aging, and this finding opens up the possibility that there are other critical aging pathways we’ve been missing… This is a pretty clear case of something that should be dug into more in the future.”
Properly regulated lipids promote brain health by contributing to its structure and development. Alternatively, poorly controlled lipids are often found in aging and diseased brains.
While scientists have known about SGDGs for decades, research on them has been limited due to a greater focus on genes and proteins. This may very well change now that the Salk Institute and UC San Diego teams have uncovered three new findings about the compounds. The authors discovered that lipid levels vary considerably between younger and older mice, all SGDGs evolve with age, and SGDGs may be controlled by the exact mechanisms responsible for regulating aging.
According to Dan Tan, a postdoctoral fellow in Saghatelian’s lab at Salk, “SGDGs were first identified in the 1970s, but there were few follow-up studies. These lipids were essentially forgotten and missing from the lipid databases. Nobody knew SGDGs would be changing or regulated in aging, let alone that they have bioactivity and, possibly, be therapeutically targetable.”
The study offers a new pathway for researchers to explore the fight against age-related neurodegenerative diseases driven by inflammation. While their research was conducted on mice, the scientists also confirmed that SGDGs exist in human and primate brains. Regardless, further studies will be needed to explore their role in human neuroinflammation.
The researchers ultimately intend to investigate how lipids are regulated and what proteins might be responsible for creating and subsequently breaking them down. Insight gleaned through further research could uncover additional details about the mechanisms and factors that drive aging and its impact on brain health.