Body size, energy metabolism and lifespan

Author: Speakman, J.R.

Description: Bigger animals live longer. The scaling exponent for the relationship between lifespan and body mass is between 0.15 and 0.3. Bigger animals also expend more energy, and the scaling exponent for the relationship of resting metabolic rate (RMR) to body mass lies somewhere between 0.66 and 0.8. Mass-specific RMR therefore scales with a corresponding exponent between -0.2 and -0.33. Because the exponents for mass-specific RMR are close to the exponents for lifespan, but have opposite signs, their product (the mass-specific expenditure of energy per lifespan) is independent of body mass (exponent between -0.08 and 0.08). This means that across species a gram of tissue on average expends about the same amount of energy before it dies regardless of whether that tissue is located in a shrew, a cow, an elephant or a whale. This fact led to the notion that ageing and lifespan are processes regulated by energy metabolism rates and that elevating metabolism will be associated with premature mortality–the rate of living theory. The free-radical theory of ageing provides a potential mechanism that links metabolism to ageing phenomena, since oxygen free radicals are formed as a by-product of oxidative phosphorylation. Despite this potential synergy in these theoretical approaches, the free-radical theory has grown in stature while the rate of living theory has fallen into disrepute. This is primarily because comparisons made across classes (for example, between birds and mammals) do not conform to the expectations, and even within classes there is substantial interspecific variability in the mass-specific expenditure of energy per lifespan. Using interspecific data to test the rate of living hypothesis is, however, confused by several major problems. For example, appeals that the resultant lifetime expenditure of energy per gram of tissue is ‘too variable’ depend on the biological significance rather than the statistical significance of the variation observed. Moreover, maximum lifespan is not a good marker of ageing and RMR is not a good measure of total energy metabolism. Analysis of residual lifespan against residual RMR reveals no significant relationship. However, this is still based on RMR. A novel comparison using daily energy expenditure (DEE), rather than BMR, suggests that lifetime expenditure of energy per gram of tissue is NOT independent of body mass, and that tissue in smaller animals expends more energy before expiring than tissue in larger animals. Some of the residual variation in this relationship in mammals is explained by ambient temperature. In addition there is a significant negative relationship between residual lifespan and residual daily energy expenditure in mammals. A potentially much better model to explore the links of body size, metabolism and ageing is to examine the intraspecific links. These studies have generated some data that support the original rate of living theory and other data that conflict. In particular several studies have shown that manipulating animals to expend more or less energy generate the expected effects on lifespan (particularly when the subjects are ectotherms). However, smaller individuals with higher rates of metabolism live longer than their slower, larger conspecifics. An addition to these confused observations has been the recent suggestion that under some circumstances we might expect mitochondria to produce fewer free radicals when metabolism is higher–particularly when they are uncoupled. These new ideas concerning the manner in which mitochondria generate free radicals as a function of metabolism shed some light on the complexity of observations linking body size, metabolism and lifespan.

Subject headings: Animals; Basal Metabolism/physiology; Body Size; Energy Metabolism/physiology; Free Radicals/metabolism; Longevity; Mitochondria/metabolism; Models, Biological; Species Specificity; Temperature

Publication year: 2005

Journal or book title: The Journal of Experimental Biology

Volume: 208

Issue: Pt 9

Pages: 1717-1730

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 122