Werner's syndrome (WS), a rare familial disease with symptoms resembling premature aging, is considered a partial model of human aging. People with WS develop a vast array of age-related diseases including arteriosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis in early adult life. These individuals have a generally aged appearance including early graying and loss of hair, and skin wrinkling. The gene responsible for WS (known as WRN) has been identified by National Institute on Aging-funded researchers (Yu et al., Science 4/12/96) as one that produces an enzyme involved in DNA metabolism and repair. Several signs of defective DNA metabolism have been identified in cells obtained from WS patients. The consequences of the defective WRN gene may be related to the accumulation of DNA damage in the cells of people with WS leading to the premature development of age-related diseases.
Dr. Anna McCormick, Chief of the NIA Biology of Aging Branch, is available to comment on similarities and differences between premature aging from WS and the age-associated biological changes seen during normal aging. In addition, Dr. McCormick will comment on the important relationship between the WRN gene and genes responsible for other premature aging syndromes. The study of familial diseases such as WS provides opportunities to examine selective aspects of the human aging process.
The NIA, one of the National Institutes of Health, leads the Federal effort in the study of the biology of aging and the special needs of older people.