Using zebrafish models to explore genetic and epigenetic impacts on evolutionary developmental origins of aging
Can we reset, reprogram, rejuvenate, or reverse the organismal aging process? Certain genetic manipulations could at least reset and reprogram epigenetic dynamics beyond phenotypic plasticity and elasticity in cells, which can be manipulated further into organisms. However, in a whole complex aging organism, how can we rejuvenate intrinsic resources and infrastructures in an intact and noninvasive manner? The incidence of diseases increases exponentially with age, accompanied by progressive deteriorations of physiological functions in organisms. Aging-associated diseases are sporadic but essentially inevitable complications arising from senescence. Senescence is often considered the antithesis of early development, but yet there may be factors and mechanisms in common between these 2 phenomena to rejuvenate over the dynamic process of aging. The association between early development and late-onset disease with advancing age is thought to come from a consequence of developmental plasticity, the phenomenon by which one genotype can give rise to a range of physiologically and/or morphologically adaptive states based on diverse epigenotypes in response to intrinsic or extrinsic environmental cues and genetic perturbations. We hypothesized that the future aging process can be predictive based on adaptivity during the early developmental period. Modulating the thresholds and windows of plasticity and its robustness by molecular genetic and chemical epigenetic approaches, we have successfully conducted experiments to isolate zebrafish mutants expressing apparently altered senescence phenotypes during their embryonic and/or larval stages (“embryonic/larval senescence”). Subsequently, at least some of these mutant animals were found to show a shortened life span, whereas others would be expected to live longer into adulthood. We anticipate that previously uncharacterized developmental genes may mediate the aging process and play a pivotal role in senescence. On the other hand, unexpected senescence-related genes might also be involved in the early developmental process and its regulation. The ease of manipulation using the zebrafish system allows us to conduct an exhaustive exploration of novel genes, genotypes, and epigenotypes that can be linked to the senescence phenotype, which facilitates searching for the evolutionary and developmental origins of aging in vertebrates.