Fruit flies — at any stage of life — maintain neural circuits for particular motor functions, despite declining in other areas of performance. In other words, even in old age they can still successfully avoid your attempts to swat them away. That’s the conclusion of recent study by biologists at the University of Iowa.
In their study, researchers examined the function of individual neurons and neural circuits throughout a fly’s aging process, as well as when they are under stress such as temperature change or erosion of protective antioxidants in their bodies.
Researchers were also able to pinpoint biological indicators of age in certain motor circuits’ electrical performance. While some circuits weakened with age, others remained consistent in strength regardless of developmental stage.
A particularly interesting circuit that stayed strong even through old age, researchers said, was a fly’s ability to evade danger. While aging flies experienced reduced muscle activity in flight and weakened neural circuits recruited during seizures, they retained their skills and strength when faced with a fly swatter.
“Our identification of aging ‘landmarks’ in motor circuit function will help future studies in uncovering genetic pathways or environmental factors contributing to healthy aging in the brain as well as age-related neurodegeneration,” says Atulya Iyengar, post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biology and a researcher with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, in a statement.
This study is published in eNeuro.