Investigating the genetics of life span extension by caffeine

By: George Sutphin

The longevity of an organism is influenced both by internal (genetic) and external (environmental) factors. With respect to internal factors, a significant effort is being made to identify novel pharmacological agents that extend life span by targeting genetic pathways with a defined role in the aging process. On the external side, the molecular mechanisms responsible for the positive influence of environmental interventions, such as dietary restriction and mild stress, are being widely explored. The environment experienced by humans in modern societies already contains countless compounds that may influence longevity. Understanding the role that the most prevalent of these compounds play in the aging process will be important to predicting and interpreting the outcome of introducing new interventions.

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug worldwide. Prior studies in flies, worms, and mice indicate that caffeine may positively impact age-associated neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. We recently discovered that caffeine is also capable of extending lifespan and improving healthspan in the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. In agreement with published work, caffeine also delays pathology in a nematode model of polyglutamine disease. Current efforts are focused on understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying this effect.

Caffeine extends life span in C. elegans. A. Low concentrations of caffeine increase nematode life span, while high concentrations are toxic. B. Chemical structure of caffeine.