Complex systems dynamics in aging: new evidence, continuing questions

Biogerontology. 2016 Feb;17(1):205-20. doi: 10.1007/s10522-015-9584-x. Epub 2015 May 20.


There have long been suggestions that aging is tightly linked to the complex dynamics of the physiological systems that maintain homeostasis, and in particular to dysregulation of regulatory networks of molecules. This review synthesizes recent work that is starting to provide evidence for the importance of such complex systems dynamics in aging. There is now clear evidence that physiological dysregulation--the gradual breakdown in the capacity of complex regulatory networks to maintain homeostasis--is an emergent property of these regulatory networks, and that it plays an important role in aging. It can be measured simply using small numbers of biomarkers. Additionally, there are indications of the importance during aging of emergent physiological processes, functional processes that cannot be easily understood through clear metabolic pathways, but can nonetheless be precisely quantified and studied. The overall role of such complex systems dynamics in aging remains an important open question, and to understand it future studies will need to distinguish and integrate related aspects of aging research, including multi-factorial theories of aging, systems biology, bioinformatics, network approaches, robustness, and loss of complexity.

Keywords: Aging; Emergent property; Physiological dysregulation; Principal components analysis; Statistical distance; Systems biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Metabolome / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Systems Biology / methods*