Fruit Flies and Sleep Loss

We all have at least one thing in common – we’re getting old. In 2014, the population of older persons – 65 years or older – was numbered at 46.2 million people, and it is expected to increase to 98 million by 2060. With our aging population on the rise, there is a push in the biomedical sciences to understand aging and age-related diseases.

Researchers at the Jadwiga Giebultowicz Lab at OSU are making important strides in understanding how the body adjusts to aging, and why aging occurs faster when the biological clock is disrupted.

The biological clock, or circadian system, is regulated by a series of genes that oscillate their expression within a 24-hour period to influence biological processes. We know that disruptions of the biological clock have been shown to accelerate the aging process, but until recently it was unclear how the biological clock works to protect an organism from the consequences of aging.

In a study published in Nature Communications in February, Giebultowicz and colleagues reported for the first time a number of genes that only began showing rhythmic expression patterns in aging fruit flies compared to younger individuals. This finding was surprising, since many genes involved in the biological clock actually lose rhythmicity with age.

Interestingly, among these late-life cycling genes were many known stress-response genes. Since oxidative stress increases during aging and contributes to many age-related diseases, Giebultowicz and colleagues suggest these late-life cycling genes may be a missing link in explaining why disruption of the biological clock accelerates the consequences of aging.

“Aging is associated with neural degeneration, loss of memory, and other problems, which are exacerbated if clock function is experimentally disrupted. The late-life cycling genes are part of the natural response to that, and do what they can to help protect the nervous system,” Giebultowicz commented.

The next question, according to Giebultowicz, will be determining how these late-life cycling genes are regulated. She added, “If we find the common regulator, we could start doing functional studies – for example, if we stop or lower the expression of this gene what will happen? Are flies going to age faster or slower?” These functional studies will help determine if changes in the expression of these genes have physiological or behavioral significance in the process of aging.

By Keely Corder

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