Molecular genetic approaches to the study of cellular senescence.
Cellular senescence is an inability of cells to synthesize DNA and divide, which results in a terminal loss of proliferation despite the maintenance of basic metabolic processes. Senescence has been proposed as a model for the study of aging at the cellular level, and the basis for this model system and its features have been summarized. Although strong experimental evidence exists to support the hypothesis that cellular senescence is a dominant active process, the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon remain a mystery. Investigators have taken several approaches to gain a better understanding of senescence. Several groups have documented the differences between young and senescent cells, and others have identified changes that occur during the course of a cell's in vitro life span. Using molecular and biochemical approaches, important changes in gene expression and function of cell-cycle-associated products have been identified. The active production of an inhibitor of DNA synthesis has been demonstrated. This may represent the final step in a cascade of events governing senescence. The study of immortal cells which have escaped senescence has also provided useful information, particularly with regard to the genes governing the senescence program. These studies have identified four complementation groups for indefinite division, which suggests that there are at least four genes or gene pathways in the senescence program. Through the use of microcell-mediated chromosome transfer, chromosomes encoding senescence genes have been identified; efforts to clone these genes are ongoing.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)