Human ageing is associated with a gradual decline in the physiological functions of the body at multiple levels and it is a key risk factor for many diseases, including cancer. Ageing process is intimately related to widespread cellular senescence, characterised by an irreversible loss of proliferative capacity and altered functioning associated with telomere attrition, accumulation of DNA damage and compromised mitochondrial and metabolic function. Tumour and senescent cells may be generated in response to the same stimuli, where either cellular senescence or transformation would constitute two opposite outcomes of the same degenerative process. This paper aims to review the state of knowledge on the biomolecular relationship between cellular senescence, ageing and cancer. Importantly, many of the cell signalling pathways that are found to be altered during both cellular senescence and tumourigenesis are regulated through shared epigenetic mechanisms and, therefore, they are potentially reversible. MicroRNAs are emerging as pivotal players linking ageing and cancer. These small RNA molecules have generated great interest from the point of view of future clinical therapy for cancer because successful experimental results have been obtained in animal models. Micro-RNA therapies for cancer are already being tested in clinical phase trials. These findings have potential importance in cancer treatment in aged people although further research-based knowledge is needed to convert them into an effective molecular therapies for cancer linked to ageing.
Keywords: Ageing; DNA; Epigenetics; Micro-RNA; Oncogenesis; Senescence.
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