Rapamycin’s Therapeutic Potential in Treating Werner Syndrome

In this new study, researchers from Japan investigated the molecular mechanisms of subcutaneous fat dysfunction in Werner syndrome.

Between 1904 and 2008, researchers found that approximately 75% of patients with Werner syndrome (WS) worldwide were of Japanese descent. WS is a rare genetic disorder that causes premature aging and increases the risk of various age-related diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. One of the hallmarks of WS is the loss of subcutaneous fat, which is the layer of fat under the skin that helps regulate body temperature and store energy. Subcutaneous fat loss leads to severe insulin resistance, which means that the body cannot use glucose effectively and has high blood sugar levels. But what causes subcutaneous fat loss in WS? And how does it affect the metabolism and health of WS patients? 

In a new study, researchers Daisuke Sawada, Hisaya Kato, Hiyori Kaneko, Daisuke Kinoshita, Shinichiro Funayama, Takuya Minamizuka, Atsushi Takasaki, Katsushi Igarashi, Masaya Koshizaka, Aki Takada-Watanabe, Rito Nakamura, Kazuto Aono, Ayano Yamaguchi, Naoya Teramoto, Yukari Maeda, Tomohiro Ohno, Aiko Hayashi, Kana Ide, Shintaro Ide, Mayumi Shoji, Takumi Kitamoto, Yusuke Endo, Hideyuki Ogata, Yoshitaka Kubota, Nobuyuki Mitsukawa, Atsushi Iwama, Yasuo Ouchi, Naoya Takayama, Koji Eto, Katsunori Fujii, Tomozumi Takatani, Tadashi Shiohama, Hiromichi Hamada, Yoshiro Maezawa, and Koutaro Yokote from Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine, Chiba University Hospital, Kazusa DNA Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and International University of Welfare and Health School of Medicine aimed to shed light on these questions by investigating the molecular mechanisms of subcutaneous fat dysfunction in WS. On October 3, 2023, their research paper was published in Aging’s Volume 15, Issue 19, entitled, “Senescence-associated inflammation and inhibition of adipogenesis in subcutaneous fat in Werner syndrome.”

“[…] research on WS is important as it can provide insights into the pathogenesis and development of treatments not only for WS but also for general age-related diseases [5].”

The Study

The researchers analyzed subcutaneous fat samples from four Japanese patients with WS and compared them with samples from healthy individuals. They found that WS subcutaneous fat cells showed signs of cellular senescence, which is a state of irreversible growth arrest that occurs when cells are exposed to stress or damage. Senescent cells secrete inflammatory molecules that can harm neighboring cells and tissues, known as senescence-associated secretory phenotype, or SASP.

The study also revealed that WS subcutaneous fat cells had impaired adipogenesis, which is the ability to differentiate into mature fat cells that can store lipids and secrete hormones. This was associated with reduced expression of genes involved in insulin signaling and lipid metabolism, such as IRS1, PI3K, AKT, and SREBP1. Moreover, the researchers found that rapamycin, a drug that inhibits a protein called mTOR that regulates cell growth and metabolism, could partially restore insulin signaling and adipogenesis in WS subcutaneous fat cells.

“These results suggest that rapamycin rescues cellular senescence and insulin resistance in WSVF [WS subcutaneous adipose tissues], and extends the lifespan of the WS model in vivo.”

Their findings suggest that senescence-associated inflammation and inhibition of adipogenesis play a role in subcutaneous fat reduction and dysfunction in WS, which may contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic disorders. This study also provides evidence that targeting mTOR with rapamycin or other drugs may have therapeutic potential for improving subcutaneous fat function and metabolic health in WS patients.


This study is one of the first to explore the molecular mechanisms of subcutaneous fat dysfunction in WS using human samples. It adds to the growing body of research on the role of senescence and inflammation in aging and age-related diseases. It also highlights the importance of subcutaneous fat as a key metabolic organ that affects not only body shape but also systemic health.

“Rapamycin, an inhibitor of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), alleviated premature cellular senescence, rescued the decrease in insulin signaling, and extended the lifespan of WS model of C. elegans. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to reveal the critical role of cellular senescence in subcutaneous lipoatrophy and severe insulin resistance in WS, highlighting the therapeutic potential of rapamycin for this disease.”

Click here to read the full study published in Aging.

Aging is an open-access, traditional, peer-reviewed journal that has published high-impact papers in all fields of aging research since 2009. All papers are available to readers (at no cost and free of subscription barriers) in bi-monthly issues at Aging-US.com.

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