Sea urchins exhibit a very different life history from humans and short-lived model animals and therefore provide the opportunity to gain new insight into the complex process of aging. Sea urchins grow indeterminately, regenerate damaged appendages, and reproduce throughout their lifespan. Some species show no increase in mortality rate at advanced ages. Nevertheless, different species of sea urchins have very different reported lifespans ranging from 4 to more than 100 years, thus providing a unique model to investigate the molecular, cellular, and physiological mechanisms underlying both lifespan determination and negligible senescence. Studies to date have demonstrated maintenance of telomeres, maintenance of antioxidant and proteasome enzyme activities, and little accumulation of oxidative cellular damage with age in tissues of sea urchin species with different lifespans. Gene expression studies indicate that key cellular pathways involved in energy metabolism, protein homeostasis, and tissue regeneration are maintained with age. Taken together, these studies suggest that long-term maintenance of mechanisms that sustain tissue homeostasis and regenerative capacity is essential for indeterminate growth and negligible senescence, and a better understanding of these processes may suggest effective strategies to mitigate the degenerative decline in human tissues with age.
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