Dietary restriction and insulin‐like signalling pathways as adaptive plasticity: A synthesis and re‐evaluation

Jenny Regan, H Froy, Craig Walling, Joshua Moatt, Daniel Nussey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

1.Dietary restriction (DR) under laboratory conditions generally extends lifespan and delays ageing across species as diverse as yeast, nematode worms, flies, and mice, and is underpinned by taxonomically conserved physiological pathways, notably the insulin‐like signalling pathway (IIS). Despite growing excitement about the links between DR / IIS and ageing within biogerontology, our understanding of why the DR response and associated pathways evolved under natural selection remains controversial and limited.

2.Here, we provide a brief overview of current understanding of the relationship between DR and IIS and ageing from modern biogerontology, and go on to summarise the evidence that the IIS pathway integrates a range of important environmental cues including photoperiod, temperature and humidity, as well as nutrition.

3.We go on to discuss the main existing evolutionary explanations for DR and argue that they are not mutually exclusive and are too nutrition‐focussed to fully explain the evolutionary origin of the IIS pathway. In the wild, environmental cues and pressures are dynamic and multivariate, and physiological pathways capable of integrating multiple predictive cues could be strongly favoured by natural selection.

4.We hypothesise that the IIS and related pathways evolved to detect and integrate a wide range of environmental cues (not just diet) that are predictive of important selective pressures in the wild. Available evidence suggests the pathway is capable of triggering a range of phenotypic responses, depending on the cues provided, ranging from profound physiological remodelling (e.g. diapause, aestivation, hibernation) associated with promoting survival through challenging environments, to more subtle responses to acute, fine‐scale variation in the environment which may allow individuals to better match their level of reproductive investment to their conditions.

5.We argue that the IIS pathway underpins important adaptive phenotypic plastic responses to a wide range of environmental inputs, of which diet is just one. A multi‐disciplinary approach combining perspectives and methods from bio‐gerontology, cell biology, ecology and evolutionary biology will be essential to develop our understanding of the evolutionary origins of this pathway and the way natural selection and the environment have shaped variation in pathway's response to different environmental cues.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jul 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cues
  • natural selection
  • nutrient sensing
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • photoperiod
  • mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)
  • wild animals


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