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Transcriptional profile of aging in C. elegans.

Lund J, Tedesco P, Duke K, Wang J, Kim SK, Johnson TE.
Department of Developmental Biology, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

BACKGROUND: Numerous gerontogene mutants leading to dramatic life extensions have been identified in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans over the last 20 years. Analysis of these mutants has provided a basis for understanding the mechanisms driving the aging process(es). Several distinct mechanisms including an altered rate of aging, increased resistance to stress, decreased metabolic rate, or alterations in a program causing organismic aging and death have been proposed to underlie these mutants. RESULTS: Whole-genome analysis of gene expression during chronological aging of the worm provides a rich database of age-specific changes in gene expression and represents one way to distinguish among these models. Using a rigorous statistical model with multiple replicates, we find that a relatively small number of genes (only 164) show statistically significant changes in transcript levels as aging occurs (<1% of the genome). Expression of heat shock proteins decreases, while expression of certain transposases increases in older worms, and these findings are consistent with a higher mortality risk due to a failure in homeostenosis and destabilization of the genome in older animals. Finally, a specific subset of genes is coordinately altered both during chronological aging and in the transition from the reproductive form to the dauer, demonstrating a mechanistic overlap in aging between these two processes. CONCLUSIONS: We have performed a whole-genome analysis of changes in gene expression during aging in C. elegans that provides a molecular description of C. elegans senescence.