A Midlife Crisis for the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging
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Here is an open access paper that covers some of the challenges that have faced the interpretation of just how and why it is that mitochondria have an important role in the aging process. The mitochondrial free radical theory of aging has been broadly considered, in several forms, but as for just about every theory of aging early models turned out to be too simple and straightforward. The reality on the ground is more complex, which is why you'll find a mass of data that supports this theory and another mass of data that contradicts it:

Since its inception more than four decades ago, the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging (MFRTA) has served as a touchstone for research into the biology of aging. The MFRTA suggests that oxidative damage to cellular macromolecules caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) originating from mitochondria accumulates in cells over an animal's lifespan and eventually leads to the dysfunction and failure that characterizes aging.

A central prediction of the theory is that the ability to ameliorate or slow this process should be associated with a slowed rate of aging and thus increased lifespan. A vast pool of data bearing on this idea has now been published. ROS production, ROS neutralization and macromolecule repair have all been extensively studied in the context of longevity. We review experimental evidence from comparisons between naturally long- or short-lived animal species, from calorie restricted animals, and from genetically modified animals and weigh the strength of results supporting the MFRTA.

Viewed as a whole, the data accumulated from these studies have too often failed to support the theory. Excellent, well controlled studies from the past decade in particular have isolated ROS as an experimental variable and have shown no relationship between its production or neutralization and aging or longevity. Instead, a role for mitochondrial ROS as intracellular messengers involved in the regulation of some basic cellular processes, such as proliferation, differentiation and death, has emerged. If mitochondrial ROS are involved in the aging process, it seems very likely it will be via highly specific and regulated cellular processes and not through indiscriminate oxidative damage to macromolecules.

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/2046-2395-3-4

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