Honingbij royalactine beïnvloedt levensduur bij Caenorhabditis elegans.

Giel Detienne
Honingbij Royalactine – Bron van de eeuwige jeugd?In de bijenkolonie zwaait de koningin de scepter over enkele duizenden vrouwelijke werksters. Maar hoe komt deze bijenkoningin aan de macht? De sleutel tot een lang en gelukkig leven op de troon zit niet in haar genen, maar wel in de voeding die ze voorgeschoteld krijgt. Royalactine speelt hierin een centrale rol. Enkel larven die voortdurend gevoed worden met dit eiwit ontwikkelen tot koninginnen en kunnen zo tot tien maal langer leven dan werksterbijen.

Honingbij royalactine beïnvloedt levensduur bij Caenorhabditis elegans.

Honingbij Royalactine – Bron van de eeuwige jeugd?

In de bijenkolonie zwaait de koningin de scepter over enkele duizenden vrouwelijke werksters. Maar hoe komt deze bijenkoningin aan de macht? De sleutel tot een lang en gelukkig leven op de troon zit niet in haar genen, maar wel in de voeding die ze voorgeschoteld krijgt. Royalactine speelt hierin een centrale rol. Enkel larven die voortdurend gevoed worden met dit eiwit ontwikkelen tot koninginnen en kunnen zo tot tien maal langer leven dan werksterbijen. In de scriptie van Giel Detienne werd voor het eerst aangetoond dat royalactine ook bij het modelorganisme Caenorhabditis elegans de levensduur verlengt. Het werkingsmechanisme van dit eiwit werd onderzocht en gedeeltelijk opgehelderd.

De ontwikkeling van een honingbijlarve tot werkster of koningin is niet genetisch bepaald, maar is afhankelijk van haar voeding. Dit is op zich niet nieuw, maar biedt wel stof tot nadenken. Het betekent dat iemands levensloop drastisch beïnvloed kan worden door zijn of haar voedingspatroon. Honingbijlarven voorbestemd voor het koninklijke leven worden immers uitsluitend gevoed met koninginnegelei. Dit complex mengsel wordt aangemaakt en met zorg toegediend door werksterbijen.

Lang was onduidelijke welke component in koninginnegelei verantwoordelijk is voor zijn opmerkelijke werking. Het geheime ingrediënt van dit mengsel – het eiwit royalactine – werd pas recent geïdentificeerd door de Japanse wetenschapper Masaki Kamakura. Royalactine zet meerdere moleculaire processen in gang die een honingbijlarve geleidelijk doen veranderen in een koningin.

Koninginnenbijen zijn niet alleen veel groter en vruchtbaarder dan werksters, maar leven ook tot tien maal langer. Opmerkelijk genoeg zorgt royalactine ook bij fruitvliegjes voor een verlenging van de levensduur. Tot voor kort was het echter onzeker waaraan royalactine nu juist zijn positieve invloed op levensduur te danken heeft.

In de scriptie van Giel Detienne werd hier voor het eerst een tipje van de sluier gelicht, via het gebruik van het modelorganisme Caenorhabditis elegans. Deze 1 millimeter lange rondworm is het meest gebruikte model voor verouderingsonderzoek. Een groot pluspunt is dat zijn genetische en biochemische netwerken sterk overeen komen met deze van de mens. Hierdoor zijn studies bij dit makkelijk te onderhouden modelorganisme ook relevant voor menselijke veroudering.

Via de levensduurexperimenten uitgevoerd tijdens dit onderzoek, werd voor het eerst aangetoond dat royalactine ook bij C. elegans de levensduur verlengt. Na extractie van royalactine uit koninginnegelei werden de wormpjes hiermee gevoed. Hoe hoger de concentratie aan royalactine in de voedingsbodem, hoe groter het effect bleek op de levensduur. Opmerkelijk genoeg leven behandelde wormpjes niet enkel ca. 30% langer, maar blijven ze ook langer actief. Royalactine heeft dus niet enkel een positieve invloed op de levensduur, maar ook op de levenskwaliteit.

Door gebruik te maken van enkele genetische technieken werd het achterliggende werkingsmechanisme van royalactine – gedeeltelijk – opgehelderd. Via het uitschakelen van specifieke genen werd een moleculaire signaalweg geïdentificeerd waarop royalactine inwerkt. Deze signaalweg blijkt essentieel voor levensduurverlenging via royalactine én is zeer gelijkaardig bij zowel wormpjes, de fruitvlieg, de muis als andere zoogdieren. Het is dus mogelijk dat royalactine ook bij de mens een positieve invloed heeft op de levensduur én levenskwaliteit.

Het onderzoek naar royalactine staat momenteel nog in zijn kinderschoenen. De uitgevoerde experimenten zijn nog maar een eerste stap in het ontrafelen van de complexe relatie tussen royalactine en veroudering. Verder onderzoek zal moeten uitwijzen in hoeverre levensduurverlenging door royalactine ook bij zoogdieren (inclusief de mens) aanwezig is. Giel Detienne zal hieraan verder werken binnen de onderzoeksafdeling Dierenfysiologie en Neurobiologie aan de KU Leuven.  

Een beter inzicht in de manier waarop royalactine genetische netwerken activeert, kan op termijn bijdragen tot het ontwikkelen van therapieën die ook gebruikt kunnen worden bij de mens. Door in te werken op het verouderingsproces an sich kunnen de ongemakken die ermee gepaard gaan mogelijk worden verlicht of uitgesteld. Dit is een visie waar recent veel interesse voor is.

Zeg nu zelf: lang leven en gezond oud worden, wie wil dat nu niet?Laat het wel duidelijk zijn dat we voorlopig nog niet allemaal naar de pot koninginnegelei moeten grijpen om het eeuwig leven te verkrijgen. Royalactine maakt maar een klein deel uit van dit complex mengsel. Er zijn nog enkele andere componenten aanwezig in koninginnegelei die neveneffecten zoals allergische reacties kunnen uitlokken. De samenstelling van het goedje varieert bovendien sterk. Soms worden er zelfs sporen van pesticiden en antibiotica in teruggevonden. Het middel heeft zeker een positieve invloed op de algemene gezondheid van bijen, maar niet noodzakelijk op deze van de mens.

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Universiteit of Hogeschool
Master in de Biochemie en de Biotechnologie
Publicatiejaar
2013
Kernwoorden
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