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The free-radical theory of ageing - older, wiser and still alive Modelling positional effects of the primary targets of ROS reveals new support

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Thomas Kirkwood, Dr Axel Kowald


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The continuing viability of the free-radical theory of ageing has been questioned following apparently incompatible recent results. We show by modelling positional effects of the generation and primary targets of reactive oxygen species that many of the apparently negative results are likely to be misleading. We conclude that there is instead a need to look more closely at the mechanisms by which free radicals contribute to age-related dysfunction in living systems. There also needs to be deeper understanding of the dynamics of accumulation and removal of the various kinds of molecular damage, in particular mtDNA mutations. Finally, the expectation that free-radical damage on its own might cause ageing needs to be relinquished in favour of the recognition that the free-radical theory is just one of the multiple mechanisms driving the ageing process.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kirkwood TBL, Kowald A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BioEssays

Year: 2012

Volume: 34

Issue: 8

Pages: 692-700

Print publication date: 29/05/2012

ISSN (print): 0265-9247

ISSN (electronic): 1521-1878

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


DOI: 10.1002/bies.201200014


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Funder referenceFunder name
UK NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Ageing and Age-Related Disease
Glenn Foundation Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Ageing
FKZ 0315584German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF)