Sexual Frustration Causes Faster Aging, Serious
Fruit flies with better sex lives live longer in U.
Michigan Study; aging and physiology are influenced by how the brain
processes expectations and rewards
1, 2013 - It has long been accepted that for many species the
expectation of food that does not become available shortens their lives.
Now, researchers have found the same is true when it comes to
expectations of sex that is denied. At least it appears to be true for
male fruit flies.
Male fruit flies that perceived sexual interest
from their female counterparts without the opportunity to mate
experienced rapid decreases in fat stores, resistance to starvation and
more stress. The sexually frustrated flies lived shorter lives.
Mating, on the other hand, partially reversed the
negative effects on health and aging, according to the new University of
Michigan study that appears in the journal Science.
"Our findings give us a better understanding about
how sensory perception and physiological state are integrated in the
brain to affect long-term health and lifespan," says senior author Scott
D. Pletcher, Ph.D, professor in the Department of Molecular and
Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School and research professor
at the U-M Geriatrics Center.
"The cutting-edge genetics and neurobiology used in
this research suggests to us that for fruit flies at least, it may not
be a myth that sexual frustration is a health issue. Expecting sex
without any sexual reward was detrimental to their health and cut their
U-M scientists used sensory manipulations to give
the common male fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, the perception that
they were in a sexually rich environment by exposing them to genetically
engineered males that produced female pheromones (a chemical that an
animal produces that spreads in the air and influences the behavior of
other animals of the same type).
They were also able to manipulate the specific
neurons responsible for pheromone perception as well as parts of the
brain linked to sexual reward (secreting a group of compounds associated
with anxiety and sex drive).
"These data may provide the first direct evidence
that aging and physiology are influenced by how the brain processes
expectations and rewards," Pletcher says. "In this case, sexual rewards
specifically promoted healthy aging."
Fruit flies have been a powerful tool for studying
aging because they live on average 60 days yet many of the discoveries
in flies have proven effective in longer-lived animals, such as mice.
For decades, one of the most powerful ways to slow
aging in different species was by limiting their food intake. In a
previous study, Pletcher and his colleagues found that the smell of food
alone was enough to speed up aging, offering new context for how dietary
Additional Authors: Christi M. Gendron, of U-M.;
Tsung‐Han Kuo, of
Baylor College of Medicine; Zachary M. Harvanek, of U-M; Brian Y. Chung,
of U-M; Joanne Y. Yew, of the National University of Singapore; and
Herman A. Dierick, of Baylor College of Medicine.
Funding: National Institutes of Health, National
Institute of Aging (Grants (R01AG030593, TR01AG043972, and R01AG023166)
and a Senior Scholar in Aging Award from the Ellison Medical Foundation.
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