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Worms Control Lifespan at High Temperatures, UCSF Study Finds
Date:4/16/2009

d aging.
Humans and other warm-blooded animals have a mechanism that enables us to maintain a constant temperature as our environment heats up or cools. Kenyon said most textbooks explain that worms and other ectotherms cannot do that.

“It’s true that worms don’t regulate their body temperature, but they do regulate their response to high temperature, slowing down processes that would otherwise go much faster. In fact, they even use steroid hormones to do this, just as we do to regulate our temperature,” she said, noting that this might have been a very early evolutionary link between cold- and warm-blooded animals.

C. elegans has been known to have thermosensory or heat-sensing neurons, which allow the worms to move towards temperatures they associate with food. If the “chemical reaction” theory were accurate, worms at a constant hotter temperature would age at the same fast rate, whether their thermosensory neurons perceived the heat or not.

The researchers found that when they either killed the heat-sensing neurons or deactivated the worm’s genes that produce steroids, the worms had an even greater response to the heat, and as a result aged and died much faster than their counterparts with active neurons. The authors conclude that these heat-sensing neurons actually help the worm regulate its response to increasing heat.

The data suggest that these thermosensory neurons affect lifespan at warm temperature by changing the activity of a steroid signaling pathway, which in turn affects longevity, according to the paper. Specifically, the authors suggest that at high temperature, the worm’s thermosensory neurons produce a signal that stimulates expression of the daf-9 gene, which produces a steroid hormone that extends lifespan.

The researchers propose that this thermosensory system allows C. elegans to reduce the effect that warm temperature would otherwise have on t
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