Mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular senescence are two of the root causes of aging targeted by the SENS rejuvenation research programs. They overlap at least a little, in that one might cause the other, but it is unclear as to whether this is significant for the specific types of mitochondrial damage considered important in the SENS view of aging. The open access paper here walks through this territory in the case of the aging lung; in recent years, it has become clear that senescent cells are important in the development of fibrosis in lungs and other organs, as well as in other aspects of aging in lung tissue. The present development of various forms of senolytic therapies to remove these cells should result in treatments capable of turning back lung aging to some degree, as well as treating presently intractable lung conditions such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Cellular senescence is generally defined as irreversible cell-cycle arrest. Importantly, senescence is characterised by the development of a pro-inflammatory secretory phenotype, termed the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The SASP is thought to be important for the immune-mediated clearance of senescent cells, however, may also be a contributor to tissue dysfunction. Evidence suggests that accumulation of senescent cells with time, leads to age-related loss of tissue function. Accordingly, senescent cells are found at sites of chronic age-related disease and have been causally implicated in the development of osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, liver steatosis and pulmonary fibrosis.
The lung is particularly affected by the ageing process, showing clear decline in structure and function with age. Moreover, the ageing lung is characterised by the presence of senescent cells and several respiratory diseases have been identified as diseases of accelerated lung ageing. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are classic examples of respiratory diseases that increase in prevalence with age and have been associated with senescence.
The mitochondria can impact on aspects of the senescence phenotype in a number of possible ways and it has been suggested that dysfunctional mitochondria are an additional feature of senescent cells that enable them to mediate paracrine effects. Mitophagy, the selective degradation of defective mitochondria by autophagy, is reduced in senescent cells. This could, in part, be responsible for the increase in mitochondrial mass that has been described in senescence. The accumulation of the mitochondrial compartment and of dysfunctional mitochondria in particular, may be an important contributor to the pro-inflammatory aspects of cellular senescence.
It has been shown that mitochondrial dysfunction induced by mitochondrial DNA depletion, knockdown of mitochondrial sirtuin 3 (SIRT3), or through inhibition of the electron transport chain (ETC) induces senescence with a distinct phenotype, termed MiDAS (mitochondrial dysfunction-associated senescence). Our group recently designed a proof-of-principle experiment, which interrogated whether mitochondria are truly necessary for senescence. Utilising the parkin-mediated mitophagy system to completely remove mitochondria upon their depolarisation, we found that following a variety of senescence triggers (e.g. oxidative stress and oncogene activation) features of cellular senescence, including Sen-β-Gal activity and the SASP, were suppressed. The mitochondria may therefore be key to the regulation of some aspects of cellular senescence, such as the pro-inflammatory phenotype, and may be promising targets for SASP modulation.