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Keys To Longevity? Sexual Frustration May Lead To Shorter Lifespans, Animal Study Shows

Last updated Sept. 12, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Published in Science, through specific taste receptors, male fruit flies that perceived sexual pheromones from their female counterparts, but didn’t engage in sexual activity, experienced a decrease in both fat storage and resistance to starvation. The sexually frustrated fruit flies were also found to increase in stress levels and have shorter lives.


Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that sex may be one of the keys to longevity – at least for fruit flies. Published in Science, through specific taste receptors, male fruit flies that perceived sexual pheromones from their female counterparts, but didn’t engage in sexual activity, experienced a decrease in both fat storage and resistance to starvation. The sexually frustrated fruit flies were also found to increase in stress levels and have shorter lives.

Conversely, male flies who perceived the female sexual pheromones and mated, partially reversed the harmful effects experienced by their frustrated counterparts and lived longer.

Research professor at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center and senior author Scott Pletcher, Ph.D., led the operation to initially provide evidence on how sensory perception and reward circuits, processed in the brain, influence aging and physiology.

"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," Pletcher added. "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 lives short."

The scientists made specific sensory manipulations to give the common male fruit fly the perception that they were in a sexually lucrative environment, with the exposure of genetically engineered male flies that produced female pheromones. Specialized neurons, responsible for pheromone perception and sexual reward, were also manipulated for the experiment.

"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.

Though the connection between sex and longevity in humans remains certain, Pletcher noted that there remains a possibility. A similar result was discovered in roundworms, which are millions of years in evolution apart from fruit flies. 

Reference:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/11/27/science.1243339

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Dec. 6, 2013
Last updated: Sept. 12, 2015