To investigate the role that aging-dependent accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations plays in the senescence processes, mitochondria from fibroblasts of 21 normal human individuals between 20 weeks (fetal) and 103 years of age were introduced into human mtDNA-less (ρ(o)) 206 cells by cytoplast x ρ(o) cell fusion, and 7-31 transformant clones were isolated from each fusion. A slight cell donor age-dependent decrease in growth rate was detected in the transformants. Using an O2 consumption rate of 1 fmol/min/cell, which was not observed in any transformant among 158 derived from individuals 20 weeks (fetal) to 37 years of age, as a cutoff to identify respiratory-deficient clones, 11 such clones were found among 198 transformants derived from individuals 39-103 years of age. Furthermore, conventional and nonparametric analysis of the respiratory rates of 356 clones revealed a very significant decrease with donor age. In other analyses, a very significant age-dependent decline in the mtDNA content of the clones was observed, without, however, any significant correlation with the decrease in O2 consumption rate in the defective transformants. These observations clearly indicate the occurrence in the fibroblast-derived transformants of two independent, age-related functional alterations of mtDNA, presumably resulting from structural damage to this genome.
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