A recent study conducted by researchers led by Christi Gendron at the University of Michigan has shed light on the connection between death perception and the acceleration of aging in fruit flies. Published in the open access journal PLOS Biology on June 13, their findings reveal that certain brain cells in flies, known as R2 and R4 neurons, become activated upon encountering dead flies, resulting in a hastened aging process.
Aging is a complex phenomenon influenced by both genetic factors and the environment. Although we understand that perceptual experiences can impact aging, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. One intriguing example is the concept of “death perception” in fruit flies. Earlier, the University of Michigan research group reported that when fruit flies witness deceased counterparts, they exhibit accelerated aging, with this effect being dependent on a serotonin receptor. In their subsequent study, the researchers present further insights into this process.
Through a series of experiments on fruit flies, the scientists pinpointed a specific group of neurons responsible for the phenomenon. By employing fluorescent tagging techniques, they observed heightened activity in a region of the fly brain called the ellipsoid body following exposure to dead flies. Subsequent experiments involving the silencing of different ring neurons in this region revealed that the R2 and R4 neurons are crucial for the observed effect. Furthermore, tests indicated that the serotonin receptor 5-HT2A, present on these neurons, played a pivotal role.
Lastly, the researchers artificially activated these neurons and observed a decrease in the lifespan of fruit flies, even in the absence of any actual death perception. By comprehending how neural circuits such as these regulate the aging process, it may eventually be possible to develop targeted drug therapies for humans that slow down aging.
Co-author Scott Pletcher remarks, “We have identified specific neurons and evolutionarily conserved molecules in the fly brain that contribute to modulating the rate of aging in response to environmental conditions and experiences.”
Source: Public Library of Science