Aging, lipofuscin formation, and free radical-mediated inhibition of cellular proteolytic systems

Pamela A. Szweda, Melissa Camouse, Kathleen C. Lundberg, Terry D. Oberley, Luke I. Szweda

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Alterations in a wide array of physiological functions are a normal consequence of aging. Importantly, aged individuals exhibit an enhanced susceptibility to various degenerative diseases and appear less able than their young and adult counterparts to withstand (patho)physiological stress. Elucidation of mechanisms at play in the aging process would benefit the development of effective strategies for enhancing the quality of life for the elderly. It is likely that decrements in cellular and physiological function that occur during aging are the net result of numerous interacting factors. The current review focuses on the potential contribution(s) of free radical-mediated modifications to protein structure/function and alterations in the activities of two major proteolytic systems within cells, lysosomes and the proteasome, to the age-dependent accumulation of fluorescent intracellular granules, termed lipofuscin. Specifically, aging appears to influence the interplay between the occurrences of free radical-derived modifications to protein and the ability of cells to carry out critical proteolytic functions. We present immunochemical and ultrastructural evidence demonstrating the occurrence of a fluorescent protein cross-link derived from free radical-mediated reaction(s) within lipofuscin granules of rat cerebral cortex neurons. In addition, we provide evidence that a fluorophore-modified protein present in lipofuscin granules is the alpha subunit of F1F0-ATP synthase, a mitochondrial protein. It has previously been shown that protein(s) bearing this particular fluorescent cross-link are resistant to proteolysis and can inhibit the proteasome in a non-competitive fashion (J. Biol. Chem. 269 (1994a) 21639; FEBS Lett. 405 (1997) 21). Therefore, the current findings demonstrate that free radical-mediated modifications to protein(s) that lead to the production of inhibitor(s) of cellular proteolytic systems are present on specific protein components of lipofuscin. In addition, the mitochondrial origin of one of these proteins indicates specific intracellular pathways likely to be influenced by free radical events and participate in the formation of lipofuscin. The results of these studies are related to previous in vitro and in vivo observations in the field, thus shedding light on potential consequences to cellular function. In addition, future research directions suggested by the available evidence are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-405
Number of pages23
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal
  • Flourescent adduct
  • Free radicals
  • Lysosomes
  • Proteasome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology


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