Background: During the last two decades progress in the genetics of aging in invertebrate models such as C. elegans and D. melanogaster has clearly demonstrated the existence of regulatory pathways that control the rate of aging in these organisms, such as the insulin-like pathway, the Jun kinase pathway and the Sir2 deacetylase pathway. Moreover, it was rapidly shown that some of these pathways are conserved from yeast to humans. In parallel to genetic studies, genomic expression approaches have given us significant information on the gene expression modifications that occur during aging either in wild type or long-lived mutant animals. But most of the genomic studies of invertebrate models have been performed so far on whole animals, while several recent studies in mammals have shown that the effects of aging are tissue specific.
Results: We used oligonucleotide microarrays to address the specificities of transcriptional responses in aging Drosophila in head, thorax or whole body. These fly parts are enriched in transcripts that represent different and complementary sets of genes. We present evidence for both specific and common transcriptional responses during the aging process in these tissues. About half of the genes described as downregulated with age are linked to reproduction and enriched in gonads. Greater downregulation of mitochondrial genes, activation of the JNK pathway and upregulation of proteasome subunits in the thorax of aged flies all suggest that muscle may be particularly sensitive to aging. Simultaneous age-related impairment of synaptic transmission gene expression is observed in fly heads. In addition, a detailed comparison with other microarray data indicates that in aged flies there are significant deviations from the canonical responses to oxidative stress and immune stress.
Conclusion: Our data demonstrates the advantages and value of regionalized and comparative analysis of gene expression in aging animals. Adding to the age-regulated genes already identified in whole animal studies, it provides lists of new regionalized genes to be studied for their functional role in the aging process. This work also emphasizes the need for such experiments to reveal in greater detail the consequences of the transcriptional modifications induced by aging regulatory pathways.