On the immortality of the germ line: genetic and biochemical mechanism. A review

Mech Ageing Dev. 1981 Dec;17(4):331-59. doi: 10.1016/0047-6374(81)90052-x.


The nature of the differences between mortal somatic cells and immortal germ cell lines constitutes a major area of theoretical gerontology which has not yet received adequate attention. Weismann's theory, first stated almost exactly a century ago, was recently reconsidered by Kirkwood and Holliday. They applied modern concepts and findings on the factors regulating the accuracy of synthesis of macromolecules to explain germ line immortality. In the present paper, evidence on ageing of reproductive cells and the relationship of cytomorphogenetic events to periodic rejuvenation of germ cell lines is summarized and evaluated. Key events include the elimination or reversal of some DNA changes in germ cells through recombination and meiotic haploidization, cyclic regeneration of transcriptional and translational systems during gametogenesis and early development, and the selection of stable, viable genomes at various stages of the reproductive cycle. These rejuvenatory processes are compared and related to molecular events which differentiated somatic cells are unable to carry out.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Survival*
  • Cytoplasm / physiology
  • DNA / biosynthesis
  • DNA Repair
  • Embryo, Mammalian / physiology
  • Female
  • Germ Cells* / cytology
  • Germ Cells* / metabolism
  • Haploidy
  • Humans
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Male
  • Meiosis
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Oocytes / growth & development
  • Oogenesis
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA / biosynthesis
  • Reproduction
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • RNA
  • DNA