A gene in the brain's dopamine system can increase lifespan, but only when combined with exercise and an enriched environment allowing social interaction and stimulation. This proves that both genes and the environment have influences on various body functions.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions have discovered that the dopamine D2 receptor gene (D2R) significantly influences lifespan, body weight and locomotor activity. Mice in an enriched environment lived 16 to 22 percent longer than those in a deprived environment, based on the expression of D2 gene.
The study, led by Panayotis (Peter) K. Thanos, senior research scientist at RIA, appears in the online version of Oncotarget Aging.
"These results provide the first evidence of D2R gene-environment interaction playing an important role in longevity and aging," Thanos says. "The dichotomy over genes versus environment has provided a rigorous and long debate in deciphering individual differences in longevity. In truth, there exists a complex interaction between the two which contribute to the differences."
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter molecule that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers and helps regulate physical mobility and emotional response. Dopamine plays a big role in movement and the destruction of dopamine neurons produces the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Dopamine also plays an important role as a hormone, inhibiting prolactin to stop the release of breast milk, besides being involved in the frontal cortex functions like attention. It has been seen that dopamine is involved in nausea, in kidney function, and in heart function.
Exercise and the right environment, it turns out, are important factors too in influencing brain function and behavior. It has long been a drawn out debate whether genes or the environment are more important in deciding traits, with studies showing equal weightage for nature and nurture.