Mitochondrial free radical production and aging in mammals and birds

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 Nov 20;854:224-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb09905.x.


The mitochondrial rate of oxygen radical (ROS) production is negatively correlated with maximum life span potential (MLSP) in mammals following the rate of living theory. In order to know if this relationship is more than circumstantial, homeothermic vertebrates with MLSP different from that predicted by the body size and metabolic rate of the majority of mammals (like birds and primates) must be studied. Birds are unique because they combine a high rate of basal oxygen consumption with a high MLSP. Heart, brain, and lung mitochondrial ROS production and free radical leak (percent of total electron flow directed to ROS production) are lower in three species of birds of different orders than in mammals of similar body size and metabolic rate. This suggests that the capacity to show a low rate of ROS production is a general characteristic of birds. Using substrates and inhibitors specific for different segments of the respiratory chain, the main ROS generator site (responsible for those bird-mammalian differences) in state 4 has been localized at complexes I and III in heart mitochondria and only at complex I in nonsynaptic brain mitochondria. In state 3, complex I is the only generator in both tissues. The results also suggest that the iron-sulphur centers are the ROS generators of complex I. A general mechanism that allows pigeon mitochondria to show a low rate of ROS production can be the capacity to maintain a low degree of reduction of the ROS generator site. In heart mitochondria, this is supplemented with a low rate of oxygen consumption physiologically compensated with a comparatively higher heart size. A low rate of free radical production near DNA, together with a high rate of DNA repair, can be responsible for the slow rate of accumulation of DNA damage and thus the slow aging rate of longevous animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Columbidae
  • Electron Transport Complex III / metabolism
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Heart / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Lung / growth & development
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Mammals
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*


  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • Electron Transport Complex III