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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Rebecca Clark

Rera, M., Clark, R.I. & Walker, D.W. (2012). Intestinal barrier dysfunction links metabolic and inflammatory markers of aging to death in Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(52): 21528-21533.

Author(s) from Durham


Aging is characterized by a growing risk of disease and death, yet the underlying pathophysiology is poorly understood. Indeed, little is known about how the functional decline of individual organ systems relates to the integrative physiology of aging and probability of death of the organism. Here we show that intestinal barrier dysfunction is correlated with lifespan across a range of Drosophila genotypes and environmental conditions, including mitochondrial dysfunction and dietary restriction. Regardless of chronological age, intestinal barrier dysfunction predicts impending death in individual flies. Activation of inflammatory pathways has been linked to aging and age-related diseases in humans, and an age-related increase in immunity-related gene expression has been reported in Drosophila. We show that the age-related increase in expression of antimicrobial peptides is tightly linked to intestinal barrier dysfunction. Indeed, increased antimicrobial peptide expression during aging can be used to identify individual flies exhibiting intestinal barrier dysfunction. Similarly, intestinal barrier dysfunction is more accurate than chronological age in identifying individual flies with systemic metabolic defects previously linked to aging, including impaired insulin/insulin-like growth factor signaling, as evidenced by a reduction in Akt activation and up-regulation of dFOXO target genes. Thus, the age-dependent loss of intestinal integrity is associated with altered metabolic and immune signaling and, critically, is a harbinger of death. Our findings suggest that intestinal barrier dysfunction may be an important factor in the pathophysiology of aging in other species as well, including humans.