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Reproductive Signals Affect Lifespan In Roundworm C. Elegans, Offering Possible Insight Into Human Aging Process

at the germ line signal inhibits DAF-16.

Next, they deducted that the germ cell signal doesn't act on DAF-2. When they deleted germ cells in animals in which the DAF-2 gene was defective, the nematodes lived twice as long as the already long-lived animals missing DAF-2, which is four times as long as normal. The researchers reasoned that if the germ cells worked through DAF-2, their absence would not have mattered, because the mutants lack the DAF-2 receptor anyway.

"The idea is you get even more DAF-16 activity if you kill both the germ cells and disrupt DAF-2," said Kenyon. "This shows that the germ cells operate independently of DAF-2. If either DAF-2 or germ cells are defective, DAF-16 levels rise and the animals live longer. If both are missing, DAF-16 levels rise even more, and the animals live even longer."

The bigger challenge was teasing out the role and mode of operation of the somatic gonads. The researchers knew that the reproductive tissue surrounding the germ cells had some role, because when they killed both the germ cells and the surrounding tissue the roundworms lived a normal lifespan. This was a very important finding, because it showed that just having progeny did not shorten the lifespan of the animal. Thus, contrary to the predictions of some theorists, there was no tradeoff between having progeny and living longer.

Instead, it indicated that that somatic gonad also produced signals that regulated lifespan. If the somatic gonads had no effect, the animals would have lived a longer than normal lifespan, given that the germ cell signal's lifespan-repressing action would have been missing.

The researchers could not tease out the unique impact of the somatic gonads, however, because killing the somatic gonads required killing the germ cells, as well, since the germ cells are embedded in the somatic tissue and cannot develop in their absence. The investigators' solution was to try to reveal the somatic gonad's unique
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Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
jobrien@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
26-May-1999


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