In C. elegans, removal of the germline extends lifespan significantly. We demonstrate that the nuclear hormone receptor, NHR-49, enables the response to this physiological change by increasing the expression of genes involved in mitochondrial β-oxidation and fatty-acid desaturation. The coordinated augmentation of these processes is critical for germline-less animals to maintain their lipid stores and to sustain de novo fat synthesis during adulthood. Following germline ablation, NHR-49 is up-regulated in somatic cells by the conserved longevity determinants DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1. Accordingly, NHR-49 overexpression in fertile animals extends their lifespan modestly. In fertile adults, nhr-49 expression is DAF-16/FOXO and TCER-1/TCERG1 independent although its depletion causes age-related lipid abnormalities. Our data provide molecular insights into how reproductive stimuli are integrated into global metabolic changes to alter the lifespan of the animal. They suggest that NHR-49 may facilitate the adaptation to loss of reproductive potential through synchronized enhancement of fatty-acid oxidation and desaturation, thus breaking down some fats ordained for reproduction and orchestrating a lipid profile conducive for somatic maintenance and longevity.
Much is known about how increasing age impairs fertility but we know little about how reproduction influences rate of aging in animals. Studies in model organisms such as worms and flies have begun to shed light on this relationship. In worms, removing germ cells that give rise to sperm and oocytes extends lifespan, increases endurance and elevates fat. Fat metabolism and hormonal signals play major roles in this lifespan augmentation but the genetic mechanisms involved are poorly understood. We show that a gene, nhr-49, enhances worm lifespan following germ-cell removal. NHR-49 is increased in animals that lack germ cells by conserved longevity proteins, DAF-16 and TCER-1. NHR-49, in turn, increases levels of genes that help burn fat and convert saturated fats into unsaturated forms. Through synchronized enhancement of these processes, NHR-49 helps eliminate excess fat delegated for reproduction and converts lipids into forms that favor a long life. NHR-49 impacts these processes during aging in normal animals too, but using different regulatory mechanisms. Our data helps understand how normal lipid metabolic processes can be harnessed to adapt to physiological fluctuations brought on by changes in the reproductive status of animals.