“I never want to get old!” This declaration seems to be uttered by everyone at some point or another, and for some, aging is a terrifying fact of life. Generally, it’s not the number of years lived that scares folks, but what happens to our bodies with each passing birthday. When we watch our parents and grandparents struggle to carry out some of the most basic activities of everyday life, like climbing the stairs or walking the dog, it’s hard to not be at least a little nervous. But what role do your genetics play in your chances of becoming frail? Two recent genetic publications may shed a bit of light on the effects of certain genes on frailty.
Frailty is a geriatric syndrome characterized by weakness, weight loss, and low physical activity. It is not generally considered a disease but is a condition associated with aging. Interestingly, frailty can manifest in different ways for each individual, and some have even reversed the syndrome early diagnosis and intervention. As such, substantial research effort has been put into finding biomarkers or genetic features to promote early detection and prognosis. Marta Inglés and colleagues hypothesized that frailty is related to biologically relevant SNPs, genes, and pathways that may help in the early diagnosis of frailty and the response to treatment strategies, thus avoiding its negative outcomes. Here is what they found:
Marta Inglés and colleagues conducted a longitudinal population-based cohort of 152 community-dwelling people in Spain. In this study, researchers took a broader approach to identify several potential genes and molecular pathways that may be associated with frailty. In total, they found 15 SNPs, 18 genes, and 4 pathways with significant relationships. Among them, 3 SNPs are located on the alcohol dehydrogenase 4 (ADH4) gene, which is associated with a better overall prognosis in certain cancers. More specifically, participants with at least one copy of the T allele of SNP rs4148883 on ADH4 showed an increased risk of developing frailty. On the other hand, they found that having at least one copy of the G allele of SNP rs613444, located on the nuclear factor I/B (NFIB) gene, provided participants with a protective effect against developing the geriatric condition. This gene has been proposed as an oncogene, meaning it is overexpressed in some cancers (like lung cancer) which promotes cancer cell growth and proliferation.
Of course, the risk of developing frailty is not entirely explained by our genetics. It is a systemic syndrome influenced by a combination of environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors which may alter gene expression. Although these studies were conducted in limited geographic regions, their results provide an important foundation of knowledge on which future research can build our understanding of frailty.
You can learn more about this research and check out all of the findings here:
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