Senescence under appraisal: hopes and challenges revisited

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2021 Apr;78(7):3333-3354. doi: 10.1007/s00018-020-03746-x. Epub 2021 Jan 13.


In recent years, cellular senescence has become the focus of attention in multiple areas of biomedical research. Typically defined as an irreversible cell cycle arrest accompanied by increased cellular growth, metabolic activity and by a characteristic messaging secretome, cellular senescence can impact on multiple physiological and pathological processes such as wound healing, fibrosis, cancer and ageing. These unjustly called 'zombie cells' are indeed a rich source of opportunities for innovative therapeutic development. In this review, we collate the current understanding of the process of cellular senescence and its two-faced nature, i.e. beneficial/detrimental, and reason this duality is linked to contextual aspects. We propose the senescence programme as an endogenous pro-resolving mechanism that may lead to sustained inflammation and damage when dysregulated or when senescent cells are not cleared efficiently. This pro-resolving model reconciles the paradoxical two faces of senescence by emphasising that it is the unsuccessful completion of the programme, and not senescence itself, what leads to pathology. Thus, pro-senescence therapies under the right context, may favour inflammation resolution. We also review the evidence for the multiple therapeutic approaches under development based on senescence, including its induction, prevention, clearance and the use of senolytic and senomorphic drugs. In particular, we highlight the importance of the immune system in the favourable outcome of senescence and the implications of an inefficient immune surveillance in completion of the senescent cycle. Finally, we identify and discuss a number of challenges and existing gaps to encourage and stimulate further research in this exciting and unravelled field, with the hope of promoting and accelerating the clinical success of senescence-based therapies.

Keywords: Ageing; Cancer; Resolution of inflammation; Senescence; Senolytics; Tissue repair.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical
  • Wound Healing*