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PLoS Genet. 2007 Feb 16;3(2):e25. Epub 2006 Dec 28.

Genetic and pharmacological factors that influence reproductive aging in nematodes.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.

Abstract

Age-related degenerative changes in the reproductive system are an important aspect of aging, because reproductive success is the major determinant of evolutionary fitness. Caenorhabditis elegans is a prominent organism for studies of somatic aging, since many factors that extend adult lifespan have been identified. However, mechanisms that control reproductive aging in nematodes or other animals are not well characterized. To use C. elegans to measure reproductive aging, we analyzed mated hermaphrodites that do not become sperm depleted and monitored the duration and level of progeny production. Mated hermaphrodites display a decline of progeny production that culminates in reproductive cessation before the end of the lifespan, demonstrating that hermaphrodites undergo reproductive aging. To identify factors that influence reproductive aging, we analyzed genetic, environmental, and pharmacological factors that extend lifespan. Dietary restriction and reduced insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling delayed reproductive aging, indicating that nutritional status and a signaling pathway that responds to environmental stress influence reproductive aging. Cold temperature delayed reproductive aging. The anticonvulsant medicine ethosuximide, which affects neural activity, delayed reproductive aging, indicating that neural activity can influence reproductive aging. Some of these factors decrease early progeny production, but there is no consistent relationship between early progeny production and reproductive aging in strains with an extended lifespan. To directly examine the effects of early progeny production on reproductive aging, we used sperm availability to modulate the level of early reproduction. Early progeny production neither accelerated nor delayed reproductive aging, indicating that reproductive aging is not controlled by use-dependent mechanisms. The implications of these findings for evolutionary theories of aging are discussed.

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