Gender differences in free radical homeostasis during aging: shorter-lived female C57BL6 mice have increased oxidative stress

Aging Cell. 2006 Dec;5(6):565-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2006.00252.x.


Gender is a profound determinant of aging and lifespan, but little is known about gender differences in free radical homeostasis. Free radicals are proposed as key elements in the multifactorial process of aging and it is predicted that the longer-lived gender should have lower levels of oxidative stress. While the majority of studies on aging have included a single gender, recent studies in rats compared genders and found that females, the longer-lived sex, had lower oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction than males. We explored the association between oxidative stress and gender-specific aging in C57BL6 mice, in which females are the shorter-lived gender. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) were measured in young and old mice by confocal imaging of dihydroethidium (DHE) oxidation in the brain, and by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectrometry of isolated brain mitochondria. Both genders exhibited significant age-dependent increases in ROS. However, females had a greater increase with age than males in DHE oxidation but not mitochondrial EPR. Superoxide dismutase 1 (Sod1) and glutathione peroxidase 1 (GPx1) protein levels were lower in old females. To determine whether enhancing antioxidant defenses would eliminate gender differences in lifespan, mice were treated chronically with a superoxide dismutase mimetic. Treatment blocked the age-dependent increase in ROS, with a greater effect in females on DHE oxidation, but not mitochondrial EPR. Treatment also increased lifespan to a greater degree in females. Our results indicate that differences in ROS homeostasis contribute to gender divergence in survival, but also suggest that mitochondrial superoxide production may not be primarily responsible for gender differences in lifespan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Ethidium / analogs & derivatives
  • Ethidium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Homeostasis / genetics
  • Longevity / genetics*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / genetics*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase-1
  • Superoxides / metabolism


  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • dihydroethidium
  • Superoxides
  • glutathione peroxidase GPX1
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Sod1 protein, mouse
  • Sod1 protein, rat
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Superoxide Dismutase-1
  • Ethidium