Oxygen accelerates the accumulation of mutations during the senescence and immortalization of murine cells in culture

Aging Cell. 2003 Dec;2(6):287-94. doi: 10.1046/j.1474-9728.2003.00066.x.


Oxidative damage is a causal factor in aging and cancer, but it is still not clear how DNA damage, the cellular responses to such damage and its conversion to mutations by misrepair or misreplication contribute to these processes. Using transgenic mice carrying a lacZ mutation reporter, we have previously shown that mutations increase with age in most organs and tissues in vivo. It has also been previously shown that mouse cells respond to oxidative stress, typical of standard culture conditions, by undergoing cellular senescence. To understand better the consequences of oxidative stress, we cultured mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) from lacZ mice under physiological oxygen tension (3%) or the high oxygen tension (20%) associated with standard culture, and determined the frequency and spectrum of mutations. Upon primary culture, the mutation frequency was found to increase approximately three-fold relative to the embryo. The majority of mutations were genome rearrangements. Subsequent culture in 20% oxygen resulted in senescence, followed by spontaneous immortalization. Immortalization was accompanied by an additional three-fold increase in mutations, most of which were G:C to T:A transversions, a signature mutation of oxidative DNA damage. In 3% oxygen, by contrast, MEFs did not senesce and the mutation frequency and spectrum remained similar to primary cultures. These findings demonstrate for the first time the impact of oxidative stress on the genomic integrity of murine cells during senescence and immortalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Oxygen / pharmacology*


  • Oxygen