Invited review: Theories of aging

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Oct;95(4):1706-16. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00288.2003.


Several factors (the lengthening of the average and, to a lesser extent, of the maximum human life span; the increase in percentage of elderly in the population and in the proportion of the national expenditure utilized by the elderly) have stimulated and continue to expand the study of aging. Recently, the view of aging as an extremely complex multifactorial process has replaced the earlier search for a distinct cause such as a single gene or the decline of a key body system. This minireview keeps in mind the multiplicity of mechanisms regulating aging; examines them at the molecular, cellular, and systemic levels; and explores the possibility of interactions at these three levels. The heterogeneity of the aging phenotype among individuals of the same species and differences in longevity among species underline the contribution of both genetic and environmental factors in shaping the life span. Thus, the presence of several trajectories of the life span, from incidence of disease and disability to absence of pathology and persistence of function, suggest that it is possible to experimentally (e.g., by calorie restriction) prolong functional plasticity and life span. In this minireview, several theories are identified only briefly; a few (evolutionary, gene regulation, cellular senescence, free radical, and neuro-endocrineimmuno theories) are discussed in more detail, at molecular, cellular, and systemic levels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Telomere / physiology