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Mechanisms of development of multimorbidity in the elderly.

Authors: Peter J PJ. Barnes
Published: 01/22/2015, The European respiratory journal


In ageing populations many patients have multiple diseases characterised by acceleration of the normal ageing process. Better understanding of the signalling pathways and cellular events involved in ageing shows that these are characteristic of many chronic degenerative diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and neurodegeneration. Common mechanisms have now been identified in these diseases, which show evidence of cellular senescence with telomere shortening, activation of PI3K-AKT-mTOR signalling, impaired autophagy, mitochondrial dysfunction, stem cell exhaustion, epigenetic changes, abnormal microRNA profiles, immunosenescence and low grade chronic inflammation ("inflammaging"). Many of these pathways are driven by chronic oxidative stress. There is also a reduction in anti-ageing molecules, such as sirtuins and Klotho, which further accelerates the ageing process. Understanding these molecular mechanisms has identified several novel therapeutic targets and several drugs have already been developed that may slow the ageing process, as well as lifestyle interventions, such as diet and physical activity. This indicates that in the future new treatment approaches may target the common pathways involved in multimorbidity and this area of research should be given high priority. Thus, COPD should be considered as a component of multimorbidity and common disease pathways, particularly accelerated ageing, should be targeted.

Copyright ©ERS 2015.
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