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Researchers Discover the Age-defying Neural Pathways of Fruit Flies
A research team at NTHU’s Brain Research Center has identified the mechanism by which dopamine levels in the nervous system of fruit flies are regulated in response to changes in ambient temperatures, thereby slowing the aging process. Their research has been published in the July 2015 issue of the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
 
According to team leader Prof. Ann-Shyn Chiang, previous research on such animals as mice, fish, and monkeys has shown that while maintaining their body temperatures in slightly cold environments will reduce the amount of free radicals produced through metabolism, a process which slows down aging and degeneration of the neural system, thereby reducing the risk of neural disorders. This process can be seen as a kind of built-in anti-aging mechanism.
 
The research team found that as fruit flies age, their proclivity to avoid cold is significantly reduced, and that such behavior is mainly controlled by two parallel circuits in the brain called mushroom bodies (MB). In young fruit flies, one of these circuits, MB β', secretes large amounts of dopamine to maintain the fly’s ability to detect and avoid low temperatures. However, as the fly ages, the dopamine levels of the MB β' reduce by half, significantly reducing the fly’s ability to avoid low temperatures. This shortage of dopamine is partially made up for by the other neural network, MB β, which secretes enough dopamine to maintain the fruit fly’s sensitivity to extremely low temperatures. By controlling dopamine secretion, these two separate neural circuits help the aging fly to maintain a slightly lower body temperature and increase its resistance to low temperatures, while maintaining its sensitivity to dangerously low temperatures.
 
Members of this pioneering research team included Hsiang-Wen Shih, lead author and a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Biotechnology; Professor Chia-Lin Wu of Chang Gung University; Professor Tsai-Feng Fu of National Chi Nan University; Professor Chien-Chung Fu of NTHU’s Department of Power and Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Sih-Yu Lai, who earned his Ph.D. from NTHU’s Institute of Biotechnology; and Sue-Wei Chang and Tsung-Ho Liu, both students in NTHU’s Department of Power and Mechanical Engineering.
 
The research team indicated that all enzymes involved in physiological responses are regulated by temperature, so that temperature change is a fundamental factor for all physiological behavior. Previous studies have mostly focused on identifying the sensory neurons which detect temperature ranges, as well as their temperature-sensing ion channels. However, how these temperature signals are processed, organized, and consolidated after they reach the brain, thereby enabling the organism to choose a suitable ambient temperature, has not been explored. In addition to discovering the mechanism by which fruit flies ameliorate the aging process, this research provides a reasonable explanation for why this phenomenon exists.
 
Some of the apparatus used by the research team was jointly developed by NTHU’s Brain Research Center and the Department of Power and Mechanical Engineering.

Some of the apparatus used by the research team was jointly developed by NTHU’s Brain Research Center and the Department of Power and Mechanical Engineering.

As fruit flies age, the MB β neural network begins to play an increasingly significant role in their ability to detect and avoid low temperatures.

As fruit flies age, the MB β neural network begins to play an increasingly significant role in their ability to detect and avoid low temperatures.

Prof. Wu Chia-lin of Chang Gung University (left); Ann-Shyn Chiang of NTHU’s Institute of Biotechnology (center); and Shih Hsiang-wen, lead author and Ph.D. student in NTHU’s Institute of Biotechnology.

Prof. Wu Chia-lin of Chang Gung University (left); Ann-Shyn Chiang of NTHU’s Institute of Biotechnology (center); and Shih Hsiang-wen, lead author and Ph.D. student in NTHU’s Institute of Biotechnology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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