Differences in the way human and mouse fibroblasts experience senescence in culture had long puzzled researchers. While senescence of human cells is mediated by telomere shortening, Parrinello et al. demonstrated that senescence of mouse cells is caused by extreme oxygen sensitivity. It was hypothesized that the striking difference in oxygen sensitivity between mouse and human cells explains their different rates of aging. To test if this hypothesis is broadly applicable, we cultured cells from 16 rodent species with diverse lifespans in 3% and 21% oxygen and compared their growth rates. Unexpectedly, fibroblasts derived from laboratory mouse strains were the only cells demonstrating extreme sensitivity to oxygen. Cells from hamster, muskrat, woodchuck, capybara, blind mole rat, paca, squirrel, beaver, naked mole rat and wild-caught mice were mildly sensitive to oxygen, while cells from rat, gerbil, deer mouse, chipmunk, guinea pig and chinchilla showed no difference in the growth rate between 3% and 21% oxygen. We conclude that, although the growth of primary fibroblasts is generally improved by maintaining cells in 3% oxygen, the extreme oxygen sensitivity is a peculiarity of laboratory mouse strains, possibly related to their very long telomeres, and fibroblast oxygen sensitivity does not directly correlate with species' lifespan.
Keywords: fibroblasts; human; oxygen; rodents; senescence.