Unlike various model organisms, cellular responses to stress have not been related to human longevity. We investigated cellular responses to stress in skin fibroblasts that were isolated from young and very old subjects, and from offspring of nonagenarian siblings and their partners, representatives of the general population. Fibroblasts were exposed to rotenone and hyperglycemia and assessed for senescence-associated beta-galactosidase (SA-beta-gal) activity by flow cytometry. Apoptosis/cell death was measured with the Annexin-V/PI assay and cell-cycle analysis (Sub-G1 content) and growth potential was determined by the colony formation assay. Compared with fibroblasts from young subjects, baseline SA-beta-gal activity was higher in fibroblasts from old subjects (P = 0.004) as were stress-induced increases (rotenone: P < 0.001, hyperglycemia: P = 0.027). For measures of apoptosis/cell death, fibroblasts from old subjects showed higher baseline levels (Annexin V+/PI+ cells: P = 0.040, Sub-G1: P = 0.014) and lower stress-induced increases (Sub-G1: P = 0.018) than fibroblasts from young subjects. Numbers and total size of colonies under nonstressed conditions were higher for fibroblasts from young subjects (P = 0.017 and 0.006, respectively). Baseline levels of SA-beta-gal activity and apoptosis/cell death were not different between fibroblasts from offspring and partner. Stress-induced increases were lower for SA-beta-gal activity (rotenone: P = 0.064, hyperglycemia: P < 0.001) and higher for apoptosis/cell death (Annexin V+/PI- cells: P = 0.041, Annexin V+/PI+ cells: P = 0.008). Numbers and total size of colonies under nonstressed conditions were higher for fibroblasts from offspring (P = 0.001 and 0.024, respectively) whereas rotenone-induced decreases were lower (P = 0.008 and 0.004, respectively). These data provide strong support for the hypothesis that in vitro cellular responses to stress reflect the propensity for human longevity.