01/08/2013 12:02 am ET

Dopamine Receptor Genetic Variation, Linked With Active Personality Traits, Could Play Role In Longevity


By Brett Spiegel

History recounts Alexander the Great's search for a restorative spring, and Hollywood managed to age Brad Pitt backwards in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." But the true fountain of youth may lie in your own genetic code, according to a study published Thursday.

An offshoot of the receptor gene dopamine — which has been linked to the pursuit of social, physical, and intellectual activity — is more often found in those who live long lives than those who don't, scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York found.

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"It’s been well documented that the more you’re involved with social and physical activities, the more likely you’ll live longer. It could be as simple as that," Robert Moyzis, PhD, professor of biological chemistry at UC Irvine, said in a press release. “While the genetic variant may not directly influence longevity, it is associated with personality traits that have been shown to be important for living a longer, healthier life," he noted.

The particular genetic trait studied, referred to as the DRD4 7R allele, appears to modify the effect of dopamine, which in turn appears to enhance a person's ability to respond to his or her surroundings, according to the research published in The Journal of Neuroscience. The allele is found predominantly in people over the age of 90 and, separately, associated with with longer life in mice.

Scientists examined the genetic makeup of 310 participants from The 90+ Study, a 2003 body and mind analysis of the oldest of the old in the United States. When compared with those aged 7 to 45, results revealed a 66 percent increase of DRD4 7R presence among the 90+ elderly, which was significantly associated with elevated physical activity. Additionally, mice lacking the genetic relative experienced a 7 to 9.7 percent drop in life expectancy when compared to those with the variant.

Even though a simple chromosomal happenstance can raise your likelihood of long life, if not eternal youth, Dr. Moyziz emphasized the importance of exercise in promoting one's optimal health and longevity. “[I]t is clear that individuals with this gene variant are already more likely to be responding to the well-known medical adage to get more physical activity.”

"The Fountain of Youth Is Hiding in Your DNA" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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