Poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation is a eukaryotic posttranslational modification of proteins that is strongly induced by the presence of DNA strand breaks and plays a role in DNA repair and the recovery of cells from DNA damage. We compared poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP; EC 188.8.131.52) activities in Percoll gradient-purified, permeabilized mononuclear leukocytes from mammalian species of different maximal life span. Saturating concentrations of a double-stranded octameric oligonucleotide were applied to provide a direct and maximal stimulation of PARP. Our results on 132 individuals from 13 different species yield a strong positive correlation between PARP activity and life span (r = 0.84; P << 0.001), with human cells displaying approximately 5 times the activity of rat cells. Intraspecies comparisons with both rat and human cells from donors of all age groups revealed some decline of PARP activity with advancing age, but it was only weakly correlated. No significant polymer degradation was detectable under our assay conditions, ruling out any interference by poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase activity. By Western blot analysis of mononuclear leukocytes from 11 species, using a crossreactive antiserum directed against the extremely well-conserved NAD-binding domain, no correlation between the amount of PARP protein and the species' life spans was found, suggesting a greater specific enzyme activity in longer-lived species. We propose that a higher poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation capacity in cells from long-lived species might contribute to the efficient maintenance of genome integrity and stability over their longer life span.