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REVIEW: What Is “Phenoptosis” and How to Fight It?

V. P. Skulachev

Lomonosov Moscow State University, Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology and Faculty of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, 119991 Moscow, Russia; E-mail: skulach@genebee.msu.ru

Received May 11, 2012
Phenoptosis is the death of an organism programmed by its genome. Numerous examples of phenoptosis are described in prokaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes, and all kingdoms of multicellular eukaryotes (animals, plants, and fungi). There are very demonstrative cases of acute phenoptosis when actuation of a specific biochemical or behavioral program results in immediate death. Rapid (taking days) senescence of semelparous plants is described as phenoptosis controlled by already known genes and mediated by toxic phytohormones like abscisic acid. In soya, the death signal is transmitted from beans to leaves via xylem, inducing leaf fall and death of the plant. Mutations in two genes of Arabidopsis thaliana, required for the flowering and subsequent formation of seeds, prevent senescence, strongly prolonging the lifespan of this small semelparous grass that becomes a big bush with woody stem, and initiate substitution of vegetative for sexual reproduction. The death of pacific salmon immediately after spawning is surely programmed. In this case, numerous typical traits of aging, including amyloid plaques in the brain, appear on the time scale of days. There are some indications that slow aging of higher animals and humans is also programmed, being the final step of ontogenesis. It is assumed that stepwise decline of many physiological functions during such aging increases pressure of natural selection on organisms stimulating in this way biological evolution. As a working hypothesis, the biochemical mechanism of slow aging is proposed. It is assumed that mitochondria-generated reactive oxygen species (ROS) is a tool to stimulate apoptosis, an effect decreasing with age the cell number (cellularity) of organs and tissues. A group of SkQ-type substances composed of plastoquinone and a penetrating cation were synthesized to target an antioxidant into mitochondria and to prevent the age-linked rise of the mitochondrial ROS level. Such targeting is due to the fact that mitochondria are the only cellular organelles that are negatively charged compared to the cytosol. SkQs are shown to strongly decrease concentration of ROS in mitochondria, prolong lifespan of fungi, invertebrates, fish, and mammals, and retard appearance of numerous traits of aging. Clinical trials of SkQ1 (plastoquinonyl decyltriphenylphosphonium) have been successfully completed so that the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation recommends drops of very dilute (0.25 µM) solution of this antioxidant as a medicine to treat the syndrome of dry eye, which was previously considered an incurable disease developing with age. These drops are already available in drugstores. Thus, SkQ1 is the first mitochondria-targeted drug employed in medical practice.
KEY WORDS: evolution, phenoptosis, programmed aging, mitochondria, antioxidants, therapy of dry eye syndrome

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297912070012