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REVIEW: New Data on Programmed Aging – Slow Phenoptosis

M. V. Skulachev1,2 and V. P. Skulachev2,3*

1Biological Faculty, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia

2Institute of Mitoengineering, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia

3Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology and Department of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia; E-mail: skulach@belozersky.msu.ru; skulach@genebee.msu.ru

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received June 11, 2014
This review summarizes the latest data on biochemistry and physiology of living organisms. These data suggest that aging, i.e. coordinated age-dependent weakening of many vital functions leading to gradual increase in the probability of dying, is not common to all organisms. Some species have been described whose probability of death does not depend on age or even decreases with age, this being accompanied by constant or increasing fertility. In the case of the naked mole rat (a non-aging mammal), a mechanism has been identified that protects this animal from cancer and the most common age-related diseases. The high molecular weight polysaccharide hyaluronan, a linear polymer composed of multiple repeated disaccharide of glucuronic acid and glucosamine, plays the key role in this mechanism. Hyaluronan is accumulated in the intercellular spaces in the organs and tissues of the naked mole rat. This polysaccharide provides early contact inhibition of cell division (anti-cancer effect). In addition, hyaluronan prevents the development of certain types of apoptosis, in particular, those induced by reactive oxygen species (ROS) (geroprotective effect preventing ROS-induced decrease in cellularity in the organs and tissues of aging organisms). Extraordinary longevity of the naked mole rat (over 30 years, which is long for a rodent the size of a mouse) is connected to its eusocial lifestyle, when only the “queen” and its few “husbands” breed, while the huge army of non-breeding “subordinates” provide the “royal family” with protection from predators, food, and construction and maintenance of an underground labyrinth size of a football field. This way of life removes the pressure of natural selection from the “family” and makes aging – the program that is counterproductive for the individual but increases “evolvability” of its offspring – unnecessary. The example of the naked mole rat demonstrates the optional character of the aging program for the organism. Many facts indicating that aging can be regulated by an organism provide another argument in favor of optionality of aging. Cases have been described when aging as a program useful for the evolution of offspring but counterproductive for the parental individual slows under conditions that threaten the very existence of the individual. These conditions include food restriction (the threat of death from starvation), heavy muscular work, decrease or increase in the environmental temperature, small amounts of poisons (including ROS; here we speak about the paradoxical geroprotective effect of the low doses of prooxidants that inhibit apoptosis). On the other hand, aging can be inhibited (and maybe even cancelled) artificially. This can be done by turning off the genes encoding the proteins participating in the aging program, such as FAT10, p66shc, and some others. In addition, the gene of the antioxidant enzyme catalase can be addressed into mitochondria, where it will split mitochondrial hydrogen peroxide, the level of which increases with age. However, today the simplest way to slow down the aging program is the use of mitochondria-targeted low molecular weight antioxidant compounds of plastoquinonyl decyltriphenylphosphonium-type (SkQ1), which prolong the life of animals, plants, and fungi and inhibit the development of many age-related diseases and symptoms.
KEY WORDS: phenoptosis, aging program, geroprotectors, antioxidants, mitochondria, evolution

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297914100010