Free radical damage is considered a determinant factor in the rate of aging. Unsaturated fatty acids are the tissue macromolecules that are most sensitive to oxidative damage. Therefore, the presence of low proportions of fatty acid unsaturation is expected in the tissues of long-lived animals. Accordingly, the fatty acid compositions of the major liver mitochondrial phospholipid classes from eight mammals, ranging in maximum life span potential (MLSP) from 3.5 to 46 yr, show that the total number of double bonds is inversely correlated with MLSP in both phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PtdEtn) (r = 0.757, P < 0.03, and r = 0.862, P < 0.006, respectively), but not in cardiolipin (P = 0.323). This is due not to a low content of unsaturated fatty acids in long-lived animals, but mainly to a redistribution between kinds of fatty acids on PtdCho and PtdEtn, shifting from arachidonic (r = 0.911, P < 0.002, and r = 0.681, P = 0.05, respectively), docosahexaenoic (r = 0.931 and r = 0.965, P < 0.0001, respectively) and palmitic (r = 0.944 and r = 0.974, P < 0.0001, respectively) acids to linoleic acid (r = 0.942, P < 0.0001, for PtdCho; and r = 0.957, P < 0.0001, for PtdEtn). For cardiolipin, only arachidonic acid showed a significantly inverse correlation with MLSP (r = 0.904, P < 0.002). This pattern strongly suggests the presence of a species-specific desaturation pathway and deacylation-reacylation cycle in determining the mitochondrial membrane composition, maintaining a low degree of fatty acid unsaturation in long-lived animals.