April 21, 2010
The Sweet Smell Of Aging
What does the smell of a good meal mean to you? It may mean more than you think. Specific odors that represent food or indicate danger are capable of altering an animal's lifespan and physiological profile by activating a small number of highly specialized sensory neurons, researchers at the University of Michigan, University of Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine have shown in a study publishing next week in the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology.
Recent research in model organisms and in humans has shown that sensory experiences can impact a wide range of health-related characteristics including athletic performance, type II diabetes, and aging. Nematode worms and fruit flies that were robbed of their ability to smell or taste, for example, lived substantially longer. However, the specific odors and sensory receptors that control this effect on aging were unknown.
"We are working hard to understand how sensory perception affects health, and our new result really narrows the playing field. Somehow these 50 or so neurons, whose primary job it is to sense CO2, are capable of instigating changes that accelerate aging throughout the organism," says Scott Pletcher.
Sensory perception has been shown to impact aging in species that are separated by millions of years of evolution, suggesting that similar effects may be seen in humans. "For us, it may not be the smell of yeast, for example, or the sensing of CO2 that affects how long we live, but it may be the perception of food or danger," says Pletcher. If so, a clever program of controlled perceptual experience might form the basis of a simple yet powerful program of disease prevention and healthy aging.
Funding: This research was supported by US National Institutes of Health (R01AG030593 and R01AG023166), the Glenn Foundation, the American Federation for Aging Research, and the Ellison Medical Foundation to SP, and a National Institute of Health K01 award (K01 G031917) to NL. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests statement: The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
Citation: Poon PC, Kuo T-H, Linford NJ, Roman G, Pletcher SD (2010) Carbon Dioxide Sensing Modulates Lifespan and Physiology in Drosophila. PLoS Biol 8(4): e1000356. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000356
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