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Gerontology. 2002 Nov-Dec;48(6):343-53.

Aging Liver. A review.

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Department of Medicine, FUHS/Chicago Medical School and Veterans Affairs Medical Center, North Chicago, IL 60064, USA.


Aging is characterized by a progressive decline of cellular functions. The aging liver appears to preserve its function relatively well. Aging is associated in human liver with morphological changes such as decrease in size attributable to decreased hepatic blood flow. Ultrastructural analysis of the human liver has revealed that the integrity of mitochondria and enzymatic activity remain mostly unchanged with aging. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are involved in the aging process and result mainly from nonenzymatic processes in the liver. Endogenous free radicals are generated within mitochondria and suspected to cause severe injury to mitochondrial DNA. This damaged DNA accumulates with aging. In addition, polyunsaturated fatty acids, highly sensitive to ROS, decrease in liver mitochondria from human centenarians, a feature acquired during evolution as a protective mechanism to favor longevity. Diet is considered the main environmental factor having effect on lifespan. It has a major impact on aging liver, the central metabolic organ of the body. The ubiquitin proteolytic pathway in the liver serves to destroy many proteins, among them p21 which is encoded by abundant mRNA in senescent cells, can inhibit cell proliferation and favors DNA repair. Drug therapy in the elderly may be complicated by several factors such as decline in body weight, renal function, liver mass and hepatic blood flow, making adverse drug reactions more frequent. Hepatic drug metabolism is mainly mediated by the cytochrome P(450 )system and drug interactions in the elderly are likely related to the progressive decline of this system after the fifth decade of life and another decrease in individuals aged >70. Antihypertensive therapy in the elderly depends upon either hepatic or renal function and should be adjusted accordingly. Finally, telomerases are the biological clocks of replicative lifespan. Shortening of telomeric ends of chromosomes correlates with aging and decline in the replicative potential of the cell: replicative senescence. Telomere DNA of human somatic cells shortens during each cell division thus leading to a finite proliferation. Transfection of the telomerase reverse transcriptase gene results in elongation of telomeres and extension of lifespan. This also applies to humans. Replicative senescence in human cells evolved as a mechanism to protect them from continuous divisions leading to multiple mutations. Longer-lived species such as humans had to develop replicative senescence to ensure that they would have the increased protection that their longevity necessitates.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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