Mice and humans are at opposite ends of the mammalian spectrum of longevity. A major question in biology is whether this difference can be accounted for by differences in the properties of cells from these two species. A new publication from Judith Campisi's lab reports that human cells in culture are more resistant than mouse cells to the damaging effects of 20% oxygen. The greater burden of DNA damage sustained by mouse cells causes them to rapidly enter a phase of culture in which most cells enter permanent growth arrest (replicative senescence). However, some mouse cells usually escape from senescence and then grow into an immortal cell line. This never happens in human fibroblast cell cultures. Human cells also eventually enter replicative senescence in culture, but this phenomenon is caused by shortening of telomeres and not by DNA damage of the type responsible for mouse cell senescence. Human fibroblasts never spontaneously escape from senescence. This Perspective reviews differences between mouse and human cells that could account for these differences in behavior. Some evidence indicates that human cells are generally more resistant than mouse cells to oxidative damage to DNA, but more needs to be done to confirm this finding and to understand the underlying mechanisms. Whether or not there are differences in the amount of DNA damage caused by oxygen or in the early phase of repair, there may be important differences in the later consequences of DNA damage. Mouse cells appear to be able to continue to divide with DNA damage that has not been repaired or has been misrepaired, and becomes fixed in the form of chromosomal abnormalities. The checkpoints that cause cells to stop dividing when chromosomes develop abnormalities (aberrations or shortened telomeres) appear to operate more efficiently in human cells. Much more work is needed to understand the basis for these differences and the implications for aging and cancer.
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