Physiological Aging

Aging can be defined as an age-related decline in physiological function (Austad, 2005). Studying aging in model organisms may include numerous anatomical, physiological, and biochemical age-related changes (Finch, 1990). Consequently, one way to determine rate of aging is to study the pace of age-related changes and/or the onset of age-related pathologies (Miller, 2001; de Magalhaes et al., 2005b). This is arguably the most accurate and informative way of studying aging in a given species.

Briefly, the basic aim of physiological studies in aging animals is to investigate typical human age-related changes. These include the major human killers in old age: cancer, heart and neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, while it is not a measure of aging, it is informative to know what animals die of, particularly in captivity where the effects of accidents and predation are minimized. Determining common causes of death for model organisms is insightful regarding the onset of aging and regarding which age-related pathologies in a given animal model are similar to those seen in people. Equally relevant are reproductive changes with age, which include testis and ovary changes as well as the onset of reproductive senescence such as age of menopause. Many age-related changes and pathologies can also be studied and compared to human aging. A few parameters of interest include, but are not limited to, fat deposits, hormonal levels such as those of growth hormone, insulin and insulin-like hormones, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), atherosclerotic lesions, osteoporosis, arthritic changes, changes in reaction times with age, changes in senses, and the presence of cerebrovascular ^-amyloid protein (Finch, 1990). There are also examples of comparative studies aimed at specific age-related pathologies, and readers should consult other chapters in this book.

In the case of chimpanzees, physiological deterioration appears to occur at earlier ages than in humans (Finch, 1990; Hill et al., 2001; Erwin et al., 2002). This is obvious in, for instance, bone aging: chimpanzees generally develop bone aging—such as fractures and loss of bone density—at earlier ages than people do (Morbeck et al., 2002). Chimpanzees also show tooth erosion at earlier ages than humans (Hill et al., 2001). While chimpanzees, in general, appear to show signs of aging at earlier ages than humans, little is known about the pace of aging in chimpanzees, some age-related changes typical of humans may not occur faster in chimpanzees. For example, cancer rates do not appear to be higher in chimpanzees, though little is known about age-related cancer rates in chimpanzees (Erwin et al., 2002).

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