Neural Control of Aging in Drosophila
Sensory perception modulates health and aging across taxa. Understanding the nature of the relevant cues and the mechanisms underlying their action may lead to novel interventions that improve the length and quality of human life. I will discuss how sensory neurons relate information about nutrition, danger, and mates to initiate rapid changes in Drosophila melanogaster health and aging. I will emphasize unpublished data showing that the fly is capable of perceiving dead conspecifics in its environment and that this perceptive experience induces both short- and long-term effects on health and longevity. Death perception is mediated by visual and olfactory cues, and remarkably, its effects on healthy aging are eliminated by targeted attenuation of serotonin signaling. Our results suggest a complex perceptive ability in Drosophila that reveals deeply conserved mechanistic links between psychological state and aging. These finding provoke the notion that sensory perception shapes the activity of specific neural circuits and signaling pathways in ways that control, in a causal sense, cell non-autonomous responses that influence behavior, physiology, and lifespan. These neural circuits and signaling molecules are further believed to define evolutionarily conserved brain states associated with concepts such as motivation, drive, and reward that modulate aging across taxa.