SIRT1 is the closest mammalian homologue of enzymes that extend life in lower organisms. Its role in mammals is incompletely understood, but includes modulation of at least 34 distinct targets through its nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD(+))-dependent deacetylase activity. Recent experiments using small molecule activators and genetically engineered mice have provided new insight into the role of this enzyme in mammalian biology and helped to highlight some of the potentially relevant targets. The most widely employed activator is resveratrol, a small polyphenol that improves insulin sensitivity and vascular function, boosts endurance, inhibits tumor formation, and ameliorates the early mortality associated with obesity in mice. Many of these effects are consistent with modulation of SIRT1 targets, such as PGC1alpha and NFkappaB, however, resveratrol can also activate AMPK, inhibit cyclooxygenases, and influence a variety of other enzymes. A novel activator, SRT1720, as well as various methods to manipulate NAD(+) metabolism, are emerging as alternative methods to increase SIRT1 activity, and in many cases recapitulate effects of resveratrol. At present, further studies are needed to more directly test the role of SIRT1 in mediating beneficial effects of resveratrol, to evaluate other strategies for SIRT1 activation, and to confirm the specific targets of SIRT1 that are relevant in vivo. These efforts are especially important in light of the fact that SIRT1 activators are entering clinical trials in humans, and "nutraceutical" formulations containing resveratrol are already widely available.
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