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Exp Gerontol. 2008 Aug;43(8):739-48. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2008.04.011. Epub 2008 Apr 27.

Genetic and environmental factors impact age-related impairment of negative geotaxis in Drosophila by altering age-dependent climbing speed.

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Department of Human Genetics and Neuroscience Program, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, VA 23298, United States.


Age-related locomotor impairment in humans is important clinically because it is associated with several co-morbidities and increased risk of death. One of the hallmarks of age-related locomotor impairment in humans is a decrease in walking speed with age. Genetically tractable model organisms such as Drosophila are essential for delineating mechanisms underlying age-related locomotor impairment and age-related decreases in locomotor speed. Negative geotaxis, the ability of flies to move vertically when startled, is a common measure of locomotor behavior that declines with age in Drosophila. Toward further developing Drosophila as a model for age-related locomotor impairment, we investigated whether negative geotaxis reflects climbing or a combination of climbing and other behaviors such as flying and jumping. Additionally, we investigated whether locomotor speed in negative geotaxis assays declines with age in flies as found for walking speed in humans. We find that the vast majority of flies climb during negative geotaxis assays and that removal of hind legs, but not wings, impairs the behavior. We also find that climbing speed decreases with age in four wild type genetic backgrounds, in flies housed at different temperatures, and in control and long-lived flies harboring a mutation in OR83b. The decreases in climbing speed correlate with the age-related impairments in the distance climbed. These studies establish negative geotaxis in Drosophila as a climbing behavior that declines with age due to a decrease in climbing speed. Age-related decreases in locomotor speed are common attributes of locomotor senescence in flies and humans.

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