A pathway that links reproductive status to lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans


Address for correspondence: Cynthia Kenyon, Mission Bay Genentech Hall MC2200, 600 16th Street, Room S312A, San Francisco, California 94158-2517. cynthia.kenyon@ucsf.edu


In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila, loss of the germline stem cells activates lifespan-extending FOXO-family transcription factors in somatic tissues and extends lifespan, suggesting the existence of an evolutionarily conserved pathway that links reproductive state and aging. Consistent with this idea, reproductive tissues have been shown to influence the lifespans of mice and humans as well. In C. elegans, loss of the germ cells activates a pathway that triggers nuclear localization of the FOXO transcription factor DAF-16 in endodermal tissue. DAF-16 then acts in the endoderm to activate downstream lifespan-extending genes. DAF-16 is also required for inhibition of insulin/insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) signaling to extend lifespan. However, the mechanisms by which inhibition of insulin/IGF-1 signaling and germline loss activate DAF-16/FOXO are distinct. As loss of the germ cells further doubles the already-long lifespan of insulin/IGF-1 pathway mutants, a better understanding of this reproductive longevity pathway could potentially suggest powerful ways to increase healthy lifespan in humans.