Given a choice, most of us would choose prefer to keep our youth and live forever. The mechanism behind the work of a protein already suspected in playing a role in longevity has recently been proved to do just that.

The photograph above shows the structure of the sirtuin protein Sirt1. Developmental biologist Shin-ichiro Imai of Washington University in St. Louis found that rather than delaying the progression of aging, the protein works in the brain to delay the onset of aging, thereby extending youth and adding those spritely years onto one’s life span. The researchers developed mice that expressed higher than normal levels of Sirt1 in their brain and observed a significant extension in the animals’ life spans. In particular, the team found that Sirt1 plays a critical role in protecting against age-related declines in skeletal muscle, physical activity, body temperature, oxygen consumption and quality of sleep. Disease onset in mice induced to contract cancer was also delayed.

The finding could help researchers better understand how to extend the life span of other mammals, including humans. The result is detailed in the September 3 Cell Metabolism.

Julianne Chiaet