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Cell Death Dis. 2013 Jul 18;4:e727. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.199.

Mitochondrial DNA damage induces apoptosis in senescent cells.

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Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, CA, USA.


Senescence is a cellular response to damage and stress. The senescence response prevents cancer by suppressing the proliferation of cells with a compromised genome and contributes to optimal wound healing in normal tissues. Persistent senescent cells are also thought to drive aging and age-associated pathologies through their secretion of inflammatory factors that modify the tissue microenvironment and alter the function of nearby normal or transformed cells. Understanding how senescent cells alter the microenvironment would be aided by the ability to induce or eliminate senescent cells at will in vivo. Here, we combine the use of the synthetic nucleoside analog ganciclovir (GCV) with herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSVtk) activity to create or eliminate senescent human cells. We show that low concentrations of GCV induce senescence through the accumulation of nuclear DNA damage while higher concentrations of GCV, similar to those used in vivo, kill non-dividing senescent cells via mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage and caspase-dependent apoptosis. Using this system, we effectively eliminated xenografted normal human senescent fibroblasts or induced senescence in human breast cancer cells in vivo. Thus, cellular senescence and mtDNA damage are outcomes of synthetic nucleoside analog treatment, indicating that the GCV-HSVtk combination can be used effectively to promote the targeted formation or eradication of senescent cells.

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