Could a dopamine gene be the key to longer life?

A gene linked to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and addiction might also help you live to be 100.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a version of a gene coding for a receptor for the brain chemical dopamine was 66% more common among people who lived to be 90 or older than among a group of younger people who were otherwise similar.  The variant leads to a weaker response to the neurotransmitter, lowering the activity of the dopamine system that is responsible for generating feelings of pleasure, desire and reward, as well as for regulating movement.

The study included over 1000 people aged 90 to 109 who lived in the Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Woods, California.  They were part of a group of nearly 14,000 highly educated people of mostly European ancestry who were initially studied in 1981.

Not only did the researchers find that the variant was more common among the oldest participants, they also learned that these people were also more physically active than their counterparts who lacked this particular version of the receptor. Having a less effective pleasure-generating dopamine system, the researchers speculate, may cause people to seek greater stimulation, making them more vigorous in the search for greater arousal. Perhaps as a result, these participants were twice as likely to exercise when first surveyed in 1981— and they remained considerably more active than those without the variant when data was collected again in 2003. That, say the researchers, may be the key to their longevity.

When dopamine isn’t regulated properly, it can contribute to a dysfunctional pursuit of good feelings, such as occurs in addictions, or lead to a hyperactive state as in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These conditions are generally associated with an increased risk of early death, rather than longevity, but the latest study suggests that “risk” genes for certain problems in some environments may be beneficial in other situations. It’s not helpful to think of genes as “good” or “bad,” in other words, but instead to consider them as more dynamic.

View the full article here: Could A Dopamine Gene Be the Answer to a Longer Life?

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