Mitochondrial respiration releases reactive oxygen species (ROS) as by-products that can damage the soma and may in turn accelerate ageing. Hence, according to “the oxidative stress theory of ageing”, longer-lived organisms may have evolved mechanisms that improve mitochondrial function, reduce ROS production and/or increase cell resistance to oxidative damage. Cardiolipin, an important mitochondrial inner-membrane phospholipid, has these properties by binding and stabilizing mitochondrial inner-membrane proteins. Here, we investigated whether ROS production, cardiolipin content and cell membrane resistance to oxidative attack in freshly collected red blood cells (RBCs) are associated with longevity (range 5–35 years) in 21 bird species belonging to seven Orders. After controlling for phylogeny, body size and oxygen consumption, variation in maximum longevity was significantly explained by mitochondrial ROS production and cardiolipin content, but not by membrane resistance to oxidative attack. RBCs of longer-lived species produced less ROS and contained more cardiolipin than RBCs of shorter-lived species did. These results support the oxidative stress theory of ageing and shed light on mitochondrial cardiolipin as an important factor linking ROS production to longevity.
Bibliographical noteThis work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (31003A-124988/1 to PB, 31003A-138187 and 31003A-159600/1 to PC). We are grateful to the staff of La Vaux-Lierre for giving us access to the bird care centre, to Sylvie Massemin and Jean-Patrice Robin for their help in data sampling and to Olivier Glaizot and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript.
- comparative methods
- free radicals