Department of Cell Stress Biology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, BLSC, L3-312, Buffalo, NY, 14263, USA.
Weak stresses (including weak oxidative stress, cytostatic agents, heat shock, hypoxia, calorie restriction) may extend lifespan. Known as hormesis, this is the most controversial notion in gerontology. For one, it is believed that aging is caused by accumulation of molecular damage. If so, hormetic stresses (by causing damage) must shorten lifespan. To solve the paradox, it was suggested that, by activating repair, hormetic stresses eventually decrease damage. Similarly, Baron Munchausen escaped from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair. Instead, I discuss that aging is not caused by accumulation of molecular damage. Although molecular damage accumulates, organisms do not live long enough to age from this accumulation. Instead, aging is driven by overactivated signal-transduction pathways including the TOR (Target of Rapamycin) pathway. A diverse group of hormetic conditions can be divided into two groups. “Hormesis A” inhibits the TOR pathway. “Hormesis B” increases aging-tolerance, defined as the ability to survive catastrophic complications of aging. Hormesis A includes calorie restriction, resveratrol, rapamycin, p53-inducing agents and, in part, physical exercise, heat shock and hypoxia. Hormesis B includes ischemic preconditioning and, in part, physical exercise, heat shock, hypoxia and medical interventions.