A forkhead in the road to longevity: the molecular basis of lifespan becomes clearer

J Hypertens. 2005 Jul;23(7):1285-309. doi: 10.1097/01.hjh.0000173509.45363.dd.


Objective: Although the quest for longevity is as old as civilization itself, only recently have technical and conceptual advances in genomics research brought us to the point of understanding the precise molecular events that make us age. This heralds an era when manipulations of these will enable us to live longer, healthier lives. The present review describes how recent experimental strategies have identified key genes and intracellular pathways that are responsible for ageing and longevity.

Findings: In diverse species transcription factors belonging to the forkhead/winged helix box gene, group O (FOXO) subfamily have been found to be crucial in downstream suppression of the life-shortening effects of insulin/insulin-like growth factor-I receptor signalling pathways that, when upregulated, accelerate ageing by suppression of FOXO. The various adverse processes activated upon FOXO suppression include increased generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are pivotal for the onset of various common conditions, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's disease, each of which shortens lifespan. In humans, FOXO3a, as well as FOXO1 and -4, and their downstream effectors, could hold the key to counteracting ageing and common diseases. An understanding of the processes controlled by these FOXOs should permit development of novel classes of agents that will more directly counteract or prevent the damage associated with diverse life-threatening conditions, and so foster a life of good health to a ripe old age. Just like caloric restriction, lifespan can be increased in various species by plant-derived polyphenols, such as resveratrol, via activation of sirtuins in cells. Sirtuins, such as SIRT1 in mammals, utilize FOXO and other pathways to achieve their beneficial effects on health and lifespan.

Conclusion: Lifespan is tractable and basic mechanisms are now known. Longevity research complements and overlaps research in most major medical disciplines. Current progress bodes well for an ever-increasing length of healthy life for those who adapt emerging knowledge personally (so-called 'longevitarians').

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Flavonoids / metabolism
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Niacinamide / metabolism
  • Niacinamide / pharmacology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phenols / metabolism
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Polyphenols
  • RNA Interference
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Receptor, Insulin / genetics
  • Receptor, Insulin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Somatomedin / genetics
  • Receptors, Somatomedin / metabolism
  • Resveratrol
  • Sirtuins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Sirtuins / genetics
  • Sirtuins / metabolism*
  • Stilbenes / metabolism
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Flavonoids
  • Phenols
  • Polyphenols
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Receptors, Somatomedin
  • Stilbenes
  • Transcription Factors
  • Niacinamide
  • Receptor, Insulin
  • Sirtuins
  • Resveratrol