C. elegans is a pretty unassuming worm, but its simplicity makes it a great model to study biological processes. It's been used to study longevity and so far remains the only creature whose brain has been completely mapped out. Combining those two fields, researchers at the University of Michigan have now uncovered how the worm's brain and gut communicate with each other to coordinate aging throughout the body.

Using the detailed knowledge of C. elegans' nervous system, the researchers discovered what they call an "axis of aging." This system involves two types of neurons in the worms' brains that process temperature changes, then send information to the gut to act on the same protein in different ways. The response affects the longevity of the worm.

One of these neurons is sensitive to cold, and when the temperature dips it responds by having the body release serotonin into the worm's gut. In turn, this signal boosts the activity of the protein DAF-16, which regulates aging and has been linked to increased longevity. The second neuron has the opposite effect. When it senses a temperature rise, it releases an insulin-like chemical into the gut, which blocks DAF-16 and reduces the worm's longevity.

The team found that these signals are then transmitted from the intestines to other parts of the worm's body. The researchers say this is the first time it's been shown how different organs work together to regulate lifespan, and since many pieces of the puzzle are also present in other animals, the find could carry across even to humans.

"From our findings, it's clear that the brain and gut can work together to detect aging-related information and then disseminate that information to other parts of the body," says Shawn Xu, lead author of the study. "We think it's likely that this sort of signaling axis can coordinate aging not only in C. elegans, but in many other organisms as well."

The research was published in the journal Genes and Development. The team explains the work in the video below.