Fibroblasts from long-lived bird species are resistant to multiple forms of stress

J Exp Biol. 2011 Jun 1;214(Pt 11):1902-10. doi: 10.1242/jeb.054643.


Evolutionary senescence theory postulates that aging results from the declining force of natural selection with increasing chronological age. A goal of comparative studies in the biology of aging is to identify genetic and biochemical mechanism(s) driving species-specific differences in the aging process that are the end product of life history trade-offs. We hypothesized that cells from long-lived bird species are more resistant to stress agents than are cells from short-lived species, and that cells from birds are more resistant to stress than are cells from relatively short-lived mammals of similar size. We tested primary fibroblast cultures from 35 species of free-living birds for their resistance to multiple forms of cellular stress and found that cell lines from longer-lived species were resistant to death caused by cadmium (R(2)=0.27, P=0.002), paraquat (R(2)=0.13, P=0.03), hydrogen peroxide (R(2)=0.09, P=0.07) and methyl methanesulfonate (R(2)=0.13, P=0.03), as well as to the metabolic inhibition seen in low-glucose medium (R(2)=0.37, P<0.01). They did not differ in their resistance to UV radiation, or to thapsigargin or tunicamycin, inducers of the unfolded protein response. These results were largely consistent even after accounting for the influence of body mass and phylogeny. Cell lines from longer-lived bird species also proliferate more rapidly than cells from short-lived birds, although there was no relationship between proliferation and stress resistance. Finally, avian fibroblasts were significantly more resistant than rodent fibroblasts to each of the tested stressors. These results support the idea that cellular resistance to injury may be an important contributor to the evolution of slow aging and long lifespan among bird species, and may contribute to the relatively long lifespan of birds compared with rodents of the same body size.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / metabolism
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Cadmium / metabolism
  • Cadmium / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / radiation effects
  • Herbicides / metabolism
  • Herbicides / pharmacology
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / pharmacology
  • Longevity*
  • Methyl Methanesulfonate / metabolism
  • Methyl Methanesulfonate / pharmacology
  • Paraquat / metabolism
  • Paraquat / pharmacology
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Herbicides
  • Cadmium
  • Methyl Methanesulfonate
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Paraquat