Protection from reactive oxygen species (ROS) and from mitochondrial oxidative damage is well known to be necessary to longevity. The relevance of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to aging is suggested by the fact that the two most commonly measured forms of mtDNA damage, deletions and the oxidatively induced lesion 8-oxo-dG, increase with age. The rate of increase is species-specific and correlates with maximum lifespan.
It is less clear that failure or inadequacies in the protection from reactive oxygen species (ROS) and from mitochondrial oxidative damage are sufficient to explain senescence. DNA containing 8-oxo-dG is repaired by mitochondria, and the high ratio of mitochondrial to nuclear levels of 8-oxo-dG previously reported are now suspected to be due to methodological difficulties. Furthermore, MnSOD −/+ mice incur higher than wild type levels of oxidative damage, but do not display an aging phenotype. Together, these findings suggest that oxidative damage to mitochondria is lower than previously thought, and that higher levels can be tolerated without physiological consequence.
A great deal of work remains before it will be known whether mitochondrial oxidative damage is a “clock” which controls the rate of aging. The increased level of 8-oxo-dG seen with age in isolated mitochondria needs explanation. It could be that a subset of cells lose the ability to protect or repair mitochondria, resulting in their incurring disproportionate levels of damage. Such an uneven distribution could exceed the reserve capacity of these cells and have serious physiological consequences. Measurements of damage need to focus more on distribution, both within tissues and within cells. In addition, study must be given to the incidence and repair of other DNA lesions, and to the possibility that repair varies from species to species, tissue to tissue, and young to old.