The oxidative stress theory of aging: Embattled or invincible? Insights from non-traditional model organisms

Rochelle Buffenstein, Yael H. Edrey, Ting Yang, James Mele

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Reactive oxygen species (ROS), inevitable byproducts of aerobic metabolism, are known to cause oxidative damage to cells and molecules. This, in turn, is widely accepted as a pivotal determinant of both lifespan and health span. While studies in a wide range of species support the role of ROS in many age-related diseases, its role in aging per se is questioned. Comparative data from a wide range of endotherms offer equivocal support for this theory, with many exceptions and inconclusive findings as to whether or not oxidative stress is either a correlate or a determinant of maximum species lifespan. Available data do not support the premise that metabolic rate and in vivo ROS production are determinants of lifespan, or that superior antioxidant defense contributes to species longevity. Rather, published studies often show either a negative associate or lack of correlation with species longevity. Furthermore, many long-living species such as birds, bats and mole-rats exhibit high levels of oxidative damage even at young ages. Similarly genetic manipulations altering expression of key antioxidants do not necessarily show an impact on lifespan, even though oxidative damage levels may be affected. While it is possible that these multiple exceptions to straightforward predictions of the free radical theory of aging all reflect species-specific, "private" mechanisms of aging, the preponderance of contrary data nevertheless present a challenge to this august theory. Therefore, contrary to accepted dogma, the role of oxidative stress as a determinant of longevity is still open to question.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-109
Number of pages11
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Aging
  • Bats
  • Birds
  • Comparative biology of aging
  • Lifespan
  • Mole-rats
  • Oxidative stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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