The researchers studied the genes in the brain’s dopamine system to assess their impact on lifespan and behaviour in mice.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres and helps regulate physical mobility and emotional response.
The researchers found that the dopamine D2 receptor gene (D2R) significantly influences lifespan, body weight and locomotor activity, but only when combined with an enriched environment that included social interaction, sensory and cognitive stimulation and, most critically, exercise.
“The incorporation of exercise is an important component of an enriched environment and its benefits have been shown to be a powerful mediator of brain function and behaviour,” said lead researcher Panayotis (Peter) K. Thanos from Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo in New York.
The researchers found that the mice in the enriched environment lived anywhere from 16 to 22 percent longer than those in a deprived environment, depending on the level of D2R expression.
The findings appeared online in the journal Oncotarget Aging.
“These results provide the first evidence of D2R gene-environment interaction playing an important role in longevity and ageing,” Thanos said.
“The dichotomy over genes versus environment has provided a rigorous and long debate in deciphering individual differences in longevity. In truth, there exists a complex interaction between the two which contribute to the differences,” Thanos noted.