This is the first of a series of posts dealing with so-called “DNA serum”.
One of our favorite product review (selling) sites is currently recommending a product (Osmotics Renovage Cellular Longevity Serum, $150) whose active ingredient is Teprenone. Their “scientific” review claims that the product “stabilizes telomeres”. Very interesting, because when you go to the Sederma site and track down the (unpublished) studies to support this claim, you find nada, nothing. Instead what you find is a study in which fibroblasts in culture given Teprenone lived longer (as a colony) than untreated fibroblasts. From which they infer that it has something to do with telomeres (the basis of a popular theory about aging). The problem (and there are many) is that they didn’t bother to actually look at telomeres. They just built an assumption upon an assumption, then added some more assumptions. Then they built a marketing message on top of that.
In culture (in vitro, in the lab) there are a lot of things that influence the life span of fibroblast cells. Donor characteristics, sampling site, culture conditions, media used, temperature, etc, etc. There are literally hundreds of things you can do to a fibroblast culture to make it “live longer”. Add chemicals that slow down metabolism. Lower the temperature of the incubator. Change the oxygen concentration. Add an antioxidant. Many, many things. All of this means nothing in terms of life span of cells in in your body (in vivo). Why? Because in your body, fibroblasts are “never required to make as many divisions as they do in vitro” (from Littlefield, a classic textbook out of Harvard). And why is that? Because new fibroblasts are made (from stem cells) to replace them long before they reach their limit. And why would the body do that? Kill off perfectly good cells before they have exhausted their ability to replicate? Because the longer cells have been around, the more prone they are to DNA mutations (e.g. cancer). It’s a good strategy.
Had the reviewer in question looked more closely, she might have discovered that Teprenone (the active ingredient) is a trade name for geranylgeranylacetone – a drug approved in Japan to treat gastric ulcers. It was rejected by the FDA in this country and remains unapproved.
Geranylgeranylacetone is a very potent chemical that induces naturally made molecules inside cells (from bacteria to human) called heat shock proteins (HSP’s). It effects several classes of these, including HSP 70 and 90 families. The stress-inducible chaperone heat shock protein (HSP) 70 is considered a danger signal if released into the extracellular environment. It has been proposed to play a role in the pathogenesis of skin diseases such as psoriasis and lupus erythematosus (Exp Dermatol. 2011 Aug;20(8):637-41). Hsp70 has been found to act as a recognition structure for natural killer (NK) cells in the body. (Int J Hyperthermia. 2009 May;25(3):169-75.). Cells transformed by Hsp70 are tagged as senescent and targeted for destruction by our indwelling immune system assassins, killer T cells.
Geranylgeranylacetone induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) and cell cycle arrest as well as cell growth inhibition (Oncogene. 2001 May 24;20(23):2927-36). This is quite likely why it slows down fibroblasts in culture (prolonging their life, by making them a lot less active). This drug may have anti-cancer effects for these very reasons. But as an anti-aging strategy, it lacks logic. Even if it does make fibroblasts in the skin live longer, it slows down the production of matrix proteins (like collagen) which would accelerate the signs of aging.
Heat shock proteins are of great interest to cell biologists, and clearly can have a protective effect against cell damage (e.g. gastric epithelial cells). But the particular HSP’s that Teprenone induce are not the ones that are likely to benefit skin. There are, in fact, other unrelated compounds under investigation that prevent and reverse DNA damage due to solar irradiation (the principle kind of stress that skin has to deal with). We will be talking about that good news in a post coming soon.
Summary: the company that sells teprenone as an active for skin care wants you to think it does good things for DNA and telomeres (the ends of DNA strands that have to do with programmed cell death). This claim is bogus. It appears they never even measured telomeres. What Teprenone actually does is induce heat shock proteins. These are powerful natural cellular messaging chemicals. Released under the wrong circumstances, these signals could be harmful, accelerating rather than retarding the visible signs of aging over time. Online anti-aging review sites that pretend to understand science are believing this marketing hype, and are then misleading you as they induce you to buy this stuff from their site.