Abstract Understanding the molecular basis of ageing remains a fundamental problem in biology. In multicellular organisms, while the soma undergoes a progressive deterioration over the lifespan, the germ line is essentially immortal as it interconnects the subsequent generations. Genomic instability in somatic cells increases with age, and accumulating evidence indicates that the disintegration of somatic genomes is accompanied by the mobilisation of transposable elements (TEs) that, when mobilised, can be mutagenic by disrupting coding or regulatory sequences. In contrast, TEs are effectively silenced in the germ line by the Piwi-piRNA system. Here, we propose that TE repression transmits the persistent proliferation capacity and the non-ageing phenotype (e.g., preservation of genomic integrity) of the germ line. The Piwi-piRNA pathway also operates in tumorous cells and in somatic cells of certain organisms, including hydras, which likewise exhibit immortality. However, in somatic cells lacking the Piwi-piRNA pathway, gradual chromatin decondensation increasingly allows the mobilisation of TEs as the organism ages. This can explain why the mortality rate rises exponentially throughout the adult life in most animal species, including humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology