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The Role of Your Brain in Determining Your Lifespan

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Recent studies in diverse organisms have provided evidence that, indeed the brain may control lifespan. Signaling pathways involved in both central nervous system and peripheral stress responses and regulation of energy metabolism may play important roles in lifespan determination. 

The brain also controls neuroendocrine systems strongly implicated in aging. The hypothalamic-pituitary system has a strong influence on lifespan. A consistent feature of environmental and genetic factors that increase longevity is that they increase cellular resistance to stress. The brain coordinates the responses of the whole body to such stressors on both rapid and long-term time scales by modulating the activities of neuroendocrine pathways (involving the hypothalamus and pituitary gland) and the autonomic nervous system.  According to M.P. Mattson of Aging Research Reviews, “However, the brain may also control maximum lifespan by its ability to stimulate signaling pathways that increase the resistance of cells to stress.”   The responses typically involve a behavioral response (fleeing the mugger or tiger), a vascular response (increased blood pressure and diversion of blood flow from the gut to muscles) and a metabolic response (increased mobilization of glucose). An increased ability of an organism to escape from a potentially lethal stressor will obviously increase its probability of having a long lifespan, and this is one way the brain can determine average lifespan.

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