Replicative senescence of human diploid fibroblasts (HDFs) or melanocytes is caused by the exhaustion of their proliferative potential. Stress-induced premature senescence (SIPS) occurs after many different sublethal stresses including H(2)O(2), hyperoxia, or tert-butylhydroperoxide. Cells in replicative senescence share common features with cells in SIPS: morphology, senescence-associated beta-galactosidase activity, cell cycle regulation, gene expression and telomere shortening. Telomere shortening is attributed to the accumulation of DNA single-strand breaks induced by oxidative damage. SIPS could be a mechanism of accumulation of senescent-like cells in vivo. Melanocytes exposed to sublethal doses of UVB undergo SIPS. Melanocytes from dark- and light- skinned populations display differences in their cell cycle regulation. Delayed SIPS occurs in melanocytes from light-skinned populations since a reduced association of p16(Ink-4a) with CDK4 and reduced phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein are observed. The role of reactive oxygen species in melanocyte SIPS is unclear. Both replicative senescence and SIPS are dependent on two major pathways. One is triggered by DNA damage, telomere damage and/or shortening and involves the activation of the p53 and p21(waf-1) proteins. The second pathway results in the accumulation of p16(Ink-4a) with the MAP kinase signalling pathway as possible intermediate. These data corroborate the thermodynamical theory of ageing, according to which the exposure of cells to sublethal stresses of various natures can trigger SIPS, with possible modulations of this process by bioenergetics.