Forever Young: Mechanisms of Natural Anoxia Tolerance and Potential Links to Longevity
While mammals cannot survive oxygen deprivation for more than a few minutes without sustaining severe organ damage, some animals have mastered anaerobic life. Freshwater turtles belonging to the Trachemys and Chrysemys genera are the champion facultative anaerobes of the vertebrate world, often surviving without oxygen for many weeks at a time. The physiological and biochemical mechanisms that underlie anoxia tolerance in turtles include profound metabolic rate depression, post-translational modification of proteins, strong antioxidant defenses, activation of specific stress-responsive transcription factors, and enhanced expression of cyto-protective proteins. Turtles are also known for their incredible longevity and display characteristics of “negligible senescence.” We propose that the robust stress-tolerance mechanisms that permit long term anaerobiosis by turtles may also support the longevity of these animals. Many of the mechanisms involved in natural anoxia tolerance, such as hypometabolism or the induction of various protective proteins/pathways, have been shown to play important roles in mammalian oxygen-related diseases and improved understanding of how cells survive without oxygen could aid in the understanding and treatment of various pathological conditions that involve hypoxia or oxidative stress. In the present review we discuss the recent advances made in understanding the molecular nature of anoxia tolerance in turtles and the potential links between this tolerance and longevity.