Aging of Cardiac Myocytes in Culture: Oxidative Stress, Lipofuscin Accumulation, and Mitochondrial Turnover


Address for correspondence: Alexei Terman, Division of Pathology II, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, SE-58185, Linköping, Sweden. Voice: +46-13-221529; fax: 46-13-221529.


Abstract: Oxidative stress is believed to be an important contributor to aging, mainly affecting long-lived postmitotic cells such as cardiac myocytes and neurons. Aging cells accumulate functionally effete, often mutant and enlarged mitochondria, as well as an intralysosomal undegradable pigment, lipofuscin. To provide better insight into the role of oxidative stress, mitochondrial damage, and lipofuscinogenesis in postmitotic aging, we studied the relationship between these parameters in cultured neonatal rat cardiac myocytes. It was found that the content of lipofuscin, which varied drastically between cells, positively correlated with mitochondrial damage (evaluated by decreased innermembrane potential), as well as with the production of reactive oxygen species. These results suggest that both lipofuscin accumulation and mitochondrial damage have common underlying mechanisms, likely including imperfect autophagy and ensuing lysosomal degradation of oxidatively damaged mitochondria and other organelles. Increased size of mitochondria (possibly resulting from impaired fission due to oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA, membranes, and proteins) also may interfere with mitochondrial turnover, leading to the appearance of so-called “giant” mitochondria. This assumption is based on our observation that pharmacological inhibition of autophagy with 3-methyladenine induced only moderate accumulation of large (senescent-like) mitochondria but drastically increased numbers of small, apparently normal mitochondria, reflecting their rapid turnover and suggesting that enlarged mitochondria are poorly autophagocytosed. Overall, our findings emphasize the importance of mitochondrial turnover in postmitotic aging and provide further support for the mitochondrial-lysosomal axis theory of aging.