Aging and Longevity: Short and sweet

A truncated version of the only insulin receptor in C. elegans has been discovered.
  1. Coleen T Murphy  Is a corresponding author
  1. Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, United States
  2. LSI Genomics, Princeton University, United States

It would be hard to overstate the importance of a receptor called DAF-2 to our understanding of aging and longevity. Almost 30 years ago it was discovered that loss of the daf-2 gene doubles lifespan in the worm C. elegans (Kenyon et al., 1993), and a few years later it was reported that DAF-2 is the only insulin/IGF-1-like receptor in C. elegans (Kimura et al., 1997). These findings led to an explosion of research into aging and longevity, revealing an intricate insulin signaling pathway that coordinates the sensing of nutrient levels with the regulation of age-related decline. In particular, it was found that reduced insulin signaling extends lifespan and increases stress resistance in flies and mice (Clancy et al., 2001; Holzenberger et al., 2003). Moreover, mutations in some of the genes associated with this pathway were found in centenarians (Suh et al., 2008). And in worms it became clear that, in addition to longevity and age-related declines, DAF-2 is involved in the regulation of a wide range of biological processes, including development, reproduction, memory, and stress responses.

DAF-2 was originally discovered for its role in controlling the dauer stage – an alternative stage of development in which a larva goes into a type of stasis to help it survive harsh conditions (Riddle et al., 1981). A lack of DAF-2 causes C. elegans to enter dauer, as does a lack of a number of other kinases (Paradis and Ruvkun, 1998). An ongoing mystery is why C. elegans has just a single gene for an insulin receptor despite having 40 different insulin-like peptides (Pierce et al., 2001). Some of these peptides are agonists (that is, they activate the receptor) and others are antagonists (they inhibit the receptor).

Given three decades of extensive research into the insulin signaling pathway in C. elegans, it would be shocking to find new functions for DAF-2 at this point. However, in a new paper in eLife, Matthew Gill of the Scripps Research Institute and colleagues – including Bryan Martinez and Pedro Reis Rodrigues as joint first authors – report evidence for such a shock: the gene for DAF-2 can also express another, truncated isoform of this protein as a result of alternative splicing (Martinez et al., 2020). The truncated version, which is called DAF-2B, can still form dimers but, unlike the full-length version, it is not expected to be able to span the membrane: this suggests that the truncated form could be secreted.

Truncated insulin receptors that have extracellular ligand-binding domains, but lack intracellular signaling domains, have been reported in both Drosophila and mammals, and are known to sequester insulin peptides. However, in these cases the full-length receptors and the truncated receptors are expressed from separate genes. Martinez et al. found that although DAF-2B was expressed in neuronal cells, it accumulated in cells called coelomocytes (macrophage-like cells that attack invading organisms such as bacteria and viruses). These results suggest that DAF-2B can indeed be secreted, rather than being retained in the neurons in which it is expressed and spliced.

But what does this shortened form of DAF-2 do? The best-characterized functions of the insulin signaling pathway are dauer formation and lifespan regulation, so Martinez et al. used these phenotypes to study DAF-2B. They found that overexpressing DAF-2B increased dauer formation, slowed dauer exit, and increased lifespan, whereas a lack of DAF-2B had the opposite effect. Basically, the data suggest that the function of DAF-2B is essentially the opposite of the function of DAF-2.

Martinez et al. also explored the interactions between DAF-2B and insulin-like peptides that were either agonists or antagonists. Overexpression of two peptides that are agonists (DAF-28 and INS-6) reduced the dauer-promoting effects of DAF-2B. Conversely, the overexpression of a peptide that is an antagonist (INS-18) would be expected to promote dauer, but this effect was blunted when DAF-2B was also overexpressed. Additionally, the researchers found that a point mutation in the proposed insulin-binding domain resulted in a form of DAF-2B that exhibited reduced dauer formation. Together, these results suggest that DAF-2B binds and may sequester insulin-like peptides, and/or form dimers with DAF-2.

Of course, mysteries remain. Given that worms have dozens of insulin-like peptides (Pierce et al., 2001), which of these bind to DAF-2B, and under what circumstances? And if DAF-2B is secreted, why does it matter where it is expressed, unless there are highly localized interactions? Finally, the mechanism by which DAF-2B acts and its dimerization state is not entirely understood.

The discovery of the truncated version of DAF-2, and the fact that it essentially works in opposition to the full-length version, raises new questions and will change how we think about DAF-2's role in insulin signaling regulation of aging and longevity.

References

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Coleen T Murphy

    Coleen T Murphy is in the Department of Molecular Biology and LSI Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, United States

    For correspondence
    ctmurphy@princeton.edu
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-8257-984X

Publication history

  1. Version of Record published: February 25, 2020 (version 1)

Copyright

© 2020, Murphy

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Metrics

  • 3,059
    views
  • 169
    downloads
  • 1
    citations

Views, downloads and citations are aggregated across all versions of this paper published by eLife.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Coleen T Murphy
(2020)
Aging and Longevity: Short and sweet
eLife 9:e55220.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.55220

Further reading

    1. Developmental Biology
    Ruonan Zhao, Emma L Moore ... Paul A Trainor
    Research Article

    Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a cellular process that converts epithelial cells to mesenchymal cells with migratory potential in developmental and pathological processes. Although originally considered a binary event, EMT in cancer progression involves intermediate states between a fully epithelial and a fully mesenchymal phenotype, which are characterized by distinct combinations of epithelial and mesenchymal markers. This phenomenon has been termed epithelial to mesenchymal plasticity (EMP), however, the intermediate states remain poorly described and it’s unclear whether they exist during developmental EMT. Neural crest cells (NCC) are an embryonic progenitor cell population that gives rise to numerous cell types and tissues in vertebrates, and their formation and delamination is a classic example of developmental EMT. However, whether intermediate states also exist during NCC EMT and delamination remains unknown. Through single-cell RNA sequencing of mouse embryos, we identified intermediate NCC states based on their transcriptional signature and then spatially defined their locations in situ in the dorsolateral neuroepithelium. Our results illustrate the importance of cell cycle regulation and functional role for the intermediate stage marker Dlc1 in facilitating mammalian cranial NCC delamination and may provide new insights into mechanisms regulating pathological EMP.

    1. Developmental Biology
    Thierry Gilbert, Camille Gorlt ... Andreas Merdes
    Research Article Updated

    Ninein is a centrosome protein that has been implicated in microtubule anchorage and centrosome cohesion. Mutations in the human NINEIN gene have been linked to Seckel syndrome and to a rare form of skeletal dysplasia. However, the role of ninein in skeletal development remains unknown. Here, we describe a ninein knockout mouse with advanced endochondral ossification during embryonic development. Although the long bones maintain a regular size, the absence of ninein delays the formation of the bone marrow cavity in the prenatal tibia. Likewise, intramembranous ossification in the skull is more developed, leading to a premature closure of the interfrontal suture. We demonstrate that ninein is strongly expressed in osteoclasts of control mice, and that its absence reduces the fusion of precursor cells into syncytial osteoclasts, whereas the number of osteoblasts remains unaffected. As a consequence, ninein-deficient osteoclasts have a reduced capacity to resorb bone. At the cellular level, the absence of ninein interferes with centrosomal microtubule organization, reduces centrosome cohesion, and provokes the loss of centrosome clustering in multinucleated mature osteoclasts. We propose that centrosomal ninein is important for osteoclast fusion, to enable a functional balance between bone-forming osteoblasts and bone-resorbing osteoclasts during skeletal development.