The research, which was conducted on fruit flies, found that male fruit flies that perceived sexual pheromones of their female counterparts- without the opportunity to mate- experienced rapid decreases in fat stores, resistance to starvation and more stress. The sexually frustrated flies lived shorter lives. Mating, on the other hand, partially reversed the negative effects on health and aging.
Senior author Scott D. Pletcher, Ph.D, professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School, said that the findings gave them a better understanding about how sensory perception and physiological state are integrated in the brain to affect long-term health and lifespan.
“The cutting-edge genetics and neurobiology used in this research suggests to us that for fruit flies at least, it may not be a myth that sexual frustration is a health issue. Expecting sex without any sexual reward was detrimental to their health and cut their lives short.”
U-M scientists used sensory manipulations to give the common male fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, the perception that they were in a sexually rich environment by exposing them to genetically engineered males that produced female pheromones.
They were also able to manipulate the specific neurons responsible for pheromone perception as well as parts of the brain linked to sexual reward.
Pletcher said that these data may provide the first direct evidence that aging and physiology are influenced by how the brain processes expectations and rewards. In this case, sexual rewards specifically promoted healthy ageing.
The study was published in the journal Science.