Assessing Health Span in Caenorhabditis elegans: Lessons From Short-Lived Mutants

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Apr 1;72(4):473-480. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glw248.


Genetic changes resulting in increased life span are often positively associated with enhanced stress resistance and somatic maintenance. A recent study found that certain long-lived Caenorhabditis elegans mutants spent a decreased proportion of total life in a healthy state compared with controls, raising concerns about how the relationship between health and longevity is assessed. We evaluated seven markers of health and two health-span models for their suitability in assessing age-associated health in invertebrates using C elegans strains not expected to outperform wild-type animals. Additionally, we used an empirical method to determine the transition point into failing health based on the greatest rate of change with age for each marker. As expected, animals with mutations causing sickness or accelerated aging had reduced health span when compared chronologically to wild-type animals. Physiological health span, the proportion of total life spent healthy, was reduced for locomotion markers in chronically ill mutants, but, surprisingly, was extended for thermotolerance. In contrast, all short-lived mutants had reduced "quality-of-life" in another model recently employed for assessing invertebrate health. Results suggest that the interpretation of physiological health span is not straightforward, possibly because it factors out time and thus does not account for the added cost of extrinsic forces on longer-lived strains.

Keywords: Health; Invertebrate; Life-span measurement; Phenotype; Sarcopenia.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / growth & development
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Fertility
  • Fluorescence
  • Genotype
  • Locomotion
  • Longevity / genetics
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Pharyngeal Muscles / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Thermotolerance