Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne

Ageing-associated changes in transcriptional elongation influence longevity - Publication in ‘Nature’


In a large joint study, researchers of the University of Cologne, the Cologne Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging (MPI) and the University of Göttingen have shown that across the animal kingdom with increasing age, the transcriptional elongation speed of genes increases, whereby the quality of the gene products suffers and that with dietary restrictions, these processes could be reversed.

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Fast but sloppy, that's how the transcription of genes changes with age. Researchers from the University of Cologne Cluster of Excellence on Cellular Stress Responses in Age-Associated Diseases (CECAD), the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC), the Cologne Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging (MPI) and the University of Göttingen discovered a new molecular mechanism that contributes to ageing by studying the transcription process in five different model organisms and in a wide variety of tissues. The study with following title "Ageing-associated changes in transcriptional elongation influence longevity" was published in  Nature616, 814–821 (2023).

Ageing impairs a wide range of cellular processes, many of which affect the quality and concentration of proteins. Among these processes, the reading of genes known as transcription is particularly important, because it is a main regulator of protein levels. Although experts knew that gene expression, i.e. the conversion of genetic information into proteins, changes with age, and also that the control of gene expression may be impaired, it was unclear whether the accuracy of the transcription process itself changes with age and whether such a change would have relevant consequences for organisms.

This is exactly what the researchers have now been able to demonstrate, which makes Andreas Beyer, CECAD and affiliated CMMC research group leader and professor at the Institute for Genetics of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Cologne, extremely happy: “This was a large, collaborative project lasting several years involving multiple teams from the CECAD cluster, and researchers of the Faculty of Medicine and other scientific institutions. Data from five species had to be generated and analysed. Only by combining our expertise was it possible to study so many species and types of data.”

In fact, the 26 scientists investigated genome-wide, age-related changes in transcription processes in nematodes, fruit flies, mice, rats and humans, including diverse tissues. And they discovered that the average speed at which the transcript grows through the attachment of RNA building blocks, the nucleotides, increased with age in all five species. Together with the higher speed of this elongation speed (Pol II speed), the researchers also observed changes in the so-called splicing, a further work step within the transcription process from the gene to the finished protein, in which the transcription product is once again shortened and cut to size.

On the behalf of the CMMC, we are particularly pleased that the joint research activities of Professor Argyris Papantonis and his team, which began during his time as PI in CMMC-JRG-Program and continued after his appointment as W2 professor at the Institute of Pathology of the University of Göttingen, have made a significant contribution to the present study.

However, the accuracy of the entire transcription process could also be controlled and reversed, for example by dietary restriction or intervention in insulin signaling - both measures that contribute to the extension of lifespan, as has been known for many years. Similarly, the lifespan of flies and the division potential of human cells lengthened when the researchers used interventions to reduce the reading speed.

Beyer says: “Our results uncover fundamental molecular mechanisms underlying animal ageing and interventions to extend lifespan, providing clues as to how we might contribute to healthy ageing in the future. The fact that interventions, such as a reduced calorie intake, also have a positive effect on a healthy ageing process on the molecular level via improving the quality of gene transcription is something which we have now been able to prove quite clearly with our study.”

The study was carried out by the University of Cologne Cluster of Excellence on Cellular Stress Responses in Age-Associated Diseases (CECAD), the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging (MPI) in Cologne and the University of Göttingen.

Original Publication:
Cédric Debès, Antonios Papadakis, Sebastian Grönke, Özlem Karalay, Luke Tain, Athanasia Mizi, Shuhei Nakamura, Oliver Hahn, Carina Weigelt, Natasa Josipovic, Anne Zirkel, Isabell Brusius, Konstantinos Sofiadis, Mantha Lamprousi,  Yu-Xuan Lu, Wenming Huang, Reza Esmaillie, Torsten Kubacki, Martin R. Späth, Bernhard Schermer, Thomas Benzing, Roman-Ulrich Müller,  Adam Antebi, Linda Partridge,  Argyris Papantonis,  Andreas Beyer
Aging-associated changes in transcriptional elongation influence metazoan longevity, Nature, 12. April 2023
Nature616, 814–821 (2023).

Media Contact
Prof. Dr. Andreas Beyer
CECAD Group Leader
and head of a CMMC Research Project

original Press Release by
Press and Communications Team - Susanne Kutter - CECAD Press Spokesperson - susanne.kutter[at]