Long-term effects of superoxide and DNA repair on lizard telomeres
Telomeres are the non-coding protein-nucleotide "caps" at chromosome ends that contribute to chromosomal stability by protecting the coding parts of the linear DNA from shortening at cell division, and from erosion by reactive molecules. Recently, there has been some controversy between molecular and cell biologists, on the one hand, and evolutionary ecologists on the other, regarding whether reactive molecules erode telomeres during oxidative stress. Many studies of biochemistry and medicine have verified these relationships in cell culture, but other researchers have failed to find such effects in free-living vertebrates. Here, we use a novel approach to measure free radicals (superoxide), mitochondrial "content" (a combined measure of mitochondrial number and size in cells), telomere length and DNA damage at two primary time points during the mating season of an annual lizard species (Ctenophorus pictus). Superoxide levels early in the mating season vary widely and elevated levels predict shorter telomeres both at that time as well as several months later. These effects are likely driven by mitochondrial content, which significantly impacts late season superoxide (cells with more mitochondria have more superoxide), but superoxide effects on telomeres are counteracted by DNA repair as revealed by 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine assays. We conclude that reactive oxygen species and DNA repair are fundamental for both short- and long-term regulation of lizard telomere length with pronounced effects of early season cellular stress detectable on telomere length near lizard death.