restricted access Handbook of the Biology of Aging (review)
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Human Biology 75.1 (2003) 138-140

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Handbook of the Biology of Aging, edited by Edward J. Masoro and Steven N. Austad. 5th ed. Series: The Handbooks of Aging. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001. 534 pp. $65.00 (paper).

The Handbook of the Biology of Aging is part of a three-volume set, The Handbooks of Aging, whichalso includes the Handbook of the Psychology of Aging and the Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences. The new editors of the volume, Edward Masoro and Steven Austad, suggest that this volume is different from previous editions in that it has an "overarching theme that integrates detailed, isolated findings of biogerontological research within the context of organismic aging" (p. xvii). James Birren, the series editor, also states in the foreword that the "objective of this series is to integrate and interpret a growing body of literature on aging for researchers, graduate students and professionals by experts in the field." The editors further emphasize that this volume can be used by teachers of the biology of aging and biologists and physicians who want to learn more about aging. However, the extent to which these goals are met varies from chapter to chapter.

Like its predecessors, the book is organized into sections by level of investigation and covers a wide variety of subjects in great depth by experts in the field. Austad's introductory section outlines some of the basics of the biology of aging, including definitions, measurement of the rate of aging, and a basic review of the theories of aging, with emphasis on evolutionary theories. As with all of his work, this chapter is well written and accessible to those new to the area. At the same time, it is also similar to some of his other publications (Austad 1992, 1997), although serving as a good introduction to much of the material presented in the rest of the book.

Three areas from previous editions of this volume did not make it into the introductory section. These include the demography of aging, the evaluation of animal models in aging research, and aging research design. The absence of the latter two has left important gaps in the book. Despite the fact that most of the research presented in the text was conducted on animal models (predominantly rodents), there is no discussion of the relative strengths of the inferences about human aging that have been drawn from studies using these models. In addition, without a discussion of research design, it is difficult for readers to evaluate the research presented in the volume, much of which is cross-sectional, a weak design in aging research.

The second section, "Cellular Processes Influencing Organismic Aging," edited by Judith Campisi, accounts for over half of the text of this volume. The section covers oxidative damage, protein structure and turnover, instability of the nuclear genome, mitochondrial mutation, gene expression, mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling, cell proliferation, and apoptosis. With notable exceptions, this section will be very difficult to read for those without a solid background in molecular biology. In addition, many of the chapters fail to integrate processes of aging at the molecular and cellular level with that at the organismic [End Page 138] level. This lack of integration is not unique to these chapters, since much of biogerontology is still reductionist in approach.

The first chapter of this section, by Tilman Grune and Kelvin Davies, although it lacks a critical perspective, provides a good overview of oxidative stress; the free radical theory and oxidative damage of lipids, DNA, and proteins; and oxidative defense systems. Several chapters in this section stand out as being particularly well written, integrative, and/or incisive. For example, the chapter on gene expression by Han et al. is an accessible summary of the effects of age on mitochondrial RNA levels, transcription, and translation. Similarly, Peter Hornsby's excellent chapter on cell proliferation reviews our current knowledge of the basics of cell growth, including replicative senescence, telomere shortening, and changes in tissue structure.

The third section of the volume, "Systemic Factors Influencing Organismic Aging," edited by Charles...