Kenneth Stark Endowed Chair in Alzheimer Research, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL 62794-9626, USA. [email protected]
Harman’s free radical theory of aging posits that oxidized macromolecules accumulate with age to decrease function and shorten life-span. However, nutritional and genetic interventions to boost anti-oxidants have generally failed to increase life-span. Furthermore, the free radical theory fails to explain why exercise causes higher levels of oxyradical damage, but generally promotes healthy aging. The separate anti-aging paradigms of genetic or caloric reductions in the insulin signaling pathway is thought to slow the rate of living to reduce metabolism, but recent evidence from Westbrook and Bartke suggests metabolism actually increases in long-lived mice. To unify these disparate theories and data, here, we propose the epigenetic oxidative redox shift (EORS) theory of aging. According to EORS, sedentary behavior associated with age triggers an oxidized redox shift and impaired mitochondrial function. In order to maintain resting energy levels, aerobic glycolysis is upregulated by redox-sensitive transcription factors. As emphasized by DeGrey, the need to supply NAD(+) for glucose oxidation and maintain redox balance with impaired mitochondrial NADH oxidoreductase requires the upregulation of other oxidoreductases. In contrast to the 2% inefficiency of mitochondrial reduction of oxygen to the oxyradical, these other oxidoreductases enable glycolytic energy production with a deleterious 100% efficiency in generating oxyradicals. To avoid this catastrophic cycle, lactate dehydrogenase is upregulated at the expense of lactic acid acidosis. This metabolic shift is epigenetically enforced, as is insulin resistance to reduce mitochondrial turnover. The low mitochondrial capacity for efficient production of energy reinforces a downward spiral of more sedentary behavior leading to accelerated aging, increased organ failure with stress, impaired immune and vascular functions and brain aging. Several steps in the pathway are amenable to reversal for exit from the vicious cycle of EORS. Examples from our work in the aging rodent brain as well as other aging models are provided.