The decline of motor coordination during aging

2012 senior Scholar Award in aging

One of the most prominent hallmarks of aging is a dramatic and often devastating decline in motor skills. Typically, a decline in motor coordination leads to problems in walking, including the ability to maintain a uniform gait and balance. Falls due to a loss of balance and motor coordination are a major cause of serious injuries in older adults. Moreover, an age-related decline in motor skills leads to a general reduction in the quality of life due to a decreased ability to perform simple tasks, such as typing on a keyboard or picking up small objects, that younger individuals take for granted. With support from the Ellison Medical Foundation, we will study the function and maintenance of the motor circuitry required for animal walking and locomotion, using powerful genetic tools that are available in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. These studies include the further development and use of a novel assay to analyze fruit fly locomotion at high resolution and the use of sophisticated genetic approaches to identify the tissues, genes, and pathways that contribute to the loss of motor coordination in older individuals. In the long-term, these studies will lead to a more precise understanding of the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the loss of motor function during aging and may suggest potential interventions to reverse or slow this process.

Richard S. Mann Ph.D.
Columbia University