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Open Access Review

Systems integrity in health and aging - an animal model approach

Marije Oostindjer1* and Gro V Amdam12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PO Box 5003, N-1432, Aas, Norway

2 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, PO Box 874501, 85287, Tempe, AZ, USA

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Longevity & Healthspan 2013, 2:2  doi:10.1186/2046-2395-2-2

Published: 7 January 2013

Abstract

Human lifespan is positively correlated with childhood intelligence, as measured by psychometric (IQ) tests. The strength of this correlation is similar to the negative effect that smoking has on the life course. This result suggests that people who perform well on psychometric tests in childhood may remain healthier and live longer. The correlation, however, is debated: is it caused exclusively by social-environmental factors or could it also have a biological component? Biological traits of systems integrity that might result in correlations between brain function and lifespan have been suggested but are not well-established, and it is questioned what useful knowledge can come from understanding such mechanisms. In a recent study, we found a positive correlation between brain function and longevity in honey bees. Honey bees are highly social, but relevant social-environmental factors that contribute to cognition-survival correlations in humans are largely absent from insect colonies. Our results, therefore, suggest a biological explanation for the correlation in the bee. Here, we argue that individual differences in stress handling (coping) mechanisms, which both affect the bees’ performance in tests of brain function and their survival could be a trait of systems integrity. Individual differences in coping are much studied in vertebrates, and several species provide attractive models. Here, we discuss how pigs are an interesting model for studying behavioural, physiological and molecular mechanisms that are recruited during stress and that can drive correlations between health, cognition and longevity traits. By revealing biological factors that make individuals susceptible to stress, it might be possible to alleviate health and longevity disparities in people.