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J Physiol. 2016 Apr 15;594(8):2147-60. doi: 10.1113/JP270579. Epub 2016 Feb 4.

Developmental aspects of a life course approach to healthy ageing.

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Institute of Developmental Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD, UK.
NIHR Nutrition Biomedical Research Centre, University Hospital Southampton, UK.
MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University Hospital Southampton, UK.
Andrology Research Unit, Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes, Institute of Human Development, Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, University of Manchester, Old St Mary's Building, Hathersage Road, Manchester, UK.
Department of Ageing and Lifecourse, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211, Geneva 27, Switzerland.


We examine the mechanistic basis and wider implications of adopting a developmental perspective on human ageing. Previous models of ageing have concentrated on its genetic basis, or the detrimental effects of accumulated damage, but also have raised issues about whether ageing can be viewed as adaptive itself, or is a consequence of other adaptive processes, for example if maintenance and repair processes in the period up to reproduction are traded off against later decline in function. A life course model places ageing in the context of the attainment of peak capacity for a body system, starting in early development when plasticity permits changes in structure and function induced by a range of environmental stimuli, followed by a period of decline, the rate of which depends on the peak attained as well as the later life conditions. Such path dependency in the rate of ageing may offer new insights into its modification. Focusing on musculoskeletal and cardiovascular function, we discuss this model and the possible underlying mechanisms, including endothelial function, oxidative stress, stem cells and nutritional factors such as vitamin D status. Epigenetic changes induced during developmental plasticity, and immune function may provide a common mechanistic process underlying a life course model of ageing. The life course trajectory differs in high and low resource settings. New insights into the developmental components of the life course model of ageing may lead to the design of biomarkers of later chronic disease risk and to new interventions to promote healthy ageing, with important implications for public health.

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