The membrane pacemaker hypothesis suggests that the composition of cell membranes - such as those that wrap mitochondria - is an important determinant of species longevity because of consequent differences in resistance to oxidative damage. Here researchers find correlations between membrane composition and longevity within one species, but not for the same reasons:
Various compositions of fatty acids can produce cell membranes with disparate fluidity and propensity for oxidation. The latter characteristic, which can be evaluated via the peroxidation index (PI), has a fundamental role in the development of the "membrane-pacemaker theory" of aging. This study tried to evaluate differences between the membrane phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profile of longevity-selected (L) and corresponding control (C) lines of Drosophila melanogaster with age (3, 9, 14 and 19 days) and its consequences on phase transition temperature as a function of membrane fluidity.
Despite an equal proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids, PI and double bond index over all ages in both experimental groups, monounsaturated fatty acids showed significant variation with advancement of age in both L and C lines. A significant age-associated elevation of the unsaturation vs. saturation index in parallel with a gradual reduction of the mean melting point was observed in longevous flies. PLFA composition of the L vs. C lines revealed a dissimilarity in 3-day old samples.
The findings of this study are not in agreement with the principle of the "membrane pacemaker theory" linking PI and longevity. However, the physiochemical properties of PLFAs in longevity lines may retard the cells' senescence by maintaining optimal membrane functionality over time. Identical susceptibility to peroxidation of both types of lines underlines the involvement of other mechanisms in protecting the bio-membrane against oxidation, such as the reduced production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species or improvement of the antioxidant defense system in longer-lived phenotypes. Concurrent assessments of these mechanisms in relation to cell membrane PLFA composition may clarify the cellular basis of lifespan in this species.