Advancements in science and medicine have led to a steady increase in life expectancy around the world. Some older adults show increased susceptibility to neurodegenerative or infectious diseases, and gradual decline in health beyond the normal expected regression of physiological function due to the aging process. The elderly are especially at risk for poor nutritional status that can lead to functional decline. The gut microbiota is intimately tied to the host health and disease and plays a major role in the development and modulation of human metabolism, immunity, and the nervous system functioning, and is important for the maintenance of psychological and physiological wellbeing. Depression and cognitive decline do not have to be a part of aging. Developing preventive strategies to promote healthy aging and maintain quality of life is critical for preserving the period of independence and dignity of the elderly.

Current Research Projects

Dr. Helen Lavretsky is the Geriatric Psychiatrist at UCLA with research interests in treatment and prevention of mood and cognitive disorders of aging. Her studies have already shown that mind-body exercise such as yoga and Tai Chi can help to reduce depression and cognitive decline in aging adults and in stressed caregivers. Current research studies offer participation in Tai Chi and yoga studies, as well as pharmacological studies for geriatric depression and mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Lavretsky aims to investigate the role of microbiota in late life mood and cognitive disorders by comparing microbiome composition in those with and without mood and cognitive symptoms, and to develop interventions targeting microbiota and wellness for prevention of mood disorders and cognitive decline in older adults.

Representative Publications

  • Lee S.M., Lavretsky H. “Microbiota and disorders of aging” IN: Complementary and Integrative Therapies for Mental Health and Aging. Eds: Lavretsky, Sajatovic, Reynolds, Oxford University Press [in press].


Key People

David Walker, PhD

Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, UCLA
Work 2018 Terasaki Life Sciences Building Los Angeles CA 90025 Work Phone: (310) 825-7179
Photo of David Walker, PhD

Biographical Info

Dr. Walker is a Professor in the department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is also a faculty member of the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA. Dr. Walker completed his Ph.D. degree at the University of Manchester, UK. He then went on to carry out postdoctoral work with Seymour Benzer at the California Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty at UCLA as an Assistant Professor in 2007 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012 and full Professor in 2015. Dr. Walker has a long-standing interest in the biological mechanisms of aging. In recent years, his research group has made important insights into the relationship between intestinal aging and organismal aging. In this work, Dr. Walker is exploring the relationships between age-related changes in microbiota composition, intestinal physiology and the health and viability of the aging host organism.

Dr. Walker is the recipient of several awards, including an Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging award as well as a Career Development Award from the UCLA Older Americans Independence Center. Most recently, Dr. Walker is the recipient of a Julie Martin Mid-Career Award in Aging Research from the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR).

Relevant Recent Publications:

  1. Clark, R.I., Salazar, A, Yamada, R, Fitz-Gibbon, S, Morselli, M, Alcaraz, J, Rana, A, Rera, M, Pelligrini, M, Ja, WW, Walker. D.W. (2015) Distinct shifts in microbiota composition during Drosophila aging impair intestinal function and drive mortality. Cell Reports (in press)
  2. Ulgerhait, M, Rana, A, Rera, M, Graniel, J, Walker D.W. (2014) AMPK modulates tissue and organismal aging in a non-cell-autonomous manner. Cell Reports 8: (6), p1767–1780.
  3. Rera, M, Clark, R.I., Walker D.W. (2012) Intestinal barrier dysfunction links metabolic and inflammatory markers of aging to death in Drosophila. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109(52): 21528-33.
  4. Rera, M, Bahadorani S, Cho J, Koehler, C, Hur, JH, Ulgerhait, M, Jones, DL, Walker DW. (2011). Modulation of longevity and tissue homeostasis by the Drosophila homolog of PGC-1. Cell Metabolism 14(5):623-34

Active Funding in Microbiome-Related Research

Funding Agency/Grant Number:NIH 1R01AG049157
Title:“Role of Intestinal Homeostasis in Organismal Aging”
Categories: Aging, Faculty, Member

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