Ageing is characterized by a progressive deterioration of multiple physiological and molecular pathways, which impair organismal performance and increase risks of death with advancing age. Hence, ageing studies must identify physiological and molecular pathways that show signs of age-related deterioration, and test their association with the risk of death and longevity. This approach necessitates longitudinal sampling of the same individuals, and therefore requires a minimally invasive sampling technique that provides access to the larger spectrum of physiological and molecular pathways that are putatively associated with ageing. The present paper underlines the interest in using red blood cells (RBCs) as a promising target for longitudinal studies of ageing in vertebrates. RBCs provide valuable information on the following six pathways: cell maintenance and turnover (RBC number, size, and heterogeneity), glucose homeostasis (RBC glycated haemoglobin), oxidative stress parameters, membrane composition and integrity, mitochondrial functioning, and telomere dynamics. The last two pathways are specific to RBCs of non-mammalian species, which possess a nucleus and functional mitochondria. We present the current knowledge about RBCs and age-dependent changes in these pathways in non-model and wild species that are especially suitable to address questions related to ageing using longitudinal studies. We discuss how the different pathways relate with survival and lifespan and give information on their genetic and environmental determinants to appraise their evolutionary potential.
We are grateful to W. Boner, Q. Fletcher and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on this manuscript.
- oxidative stress