The Unreliability of Many Studies of Rodent Longevity

As noted in this paper, many researchers still fail to control for calorie intake in their studies - and thus their experimental results are largely worthless, given the impact of even mild calorie restriction on the life spans of laboratory animals: "Much of the literature describing the search for agents that increase the life span of rodents was found to suffer from confounds. One-hundred-six studies, absent 20 contradictory melatonin studies, of compounds or combinations of compounds were reviewed. Only six studies reported both life span extension and food consumption data, thereby excluding the potential effects of caloric restriction. Six other studies reported life span extension without a change in body weight. However, weight can be an unreliable surrogate measure of caloric consumption. Twenty studies reported that food consumption or weight was unchanged, but it was unclear whether these data were anecdotal or systematic. Twenty-nine reported extended life span likely due to induced caloric restriction. Thirty-six studies reported no effect on life span, and three a decrease. The remaining studies suffer from more serious confounds. Though still widely cited, studies showing life span extension using short-lived or 'enfeebled' rodents have not been shown to predict longevity effects in long-lived animals. We suggest improvements in experimental design that will enhance the reliability of the rodent life span literature. First, animals should receive measured quantities of food and its consumption monitored, preferably daily, and reported. Weights should be measured regularly and reported. Second, a genetically heterogeneous, long-lived rodent should be utilized. Third, chemically defined diets should be used. Fourth, a positive control (e.g., a calorically restricted group) is highly desirable. ... These procedures should improve the reliability of the scientific literature and accelerate the identification of longevity and health span-enhancing agents."

Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21424790

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