Birds (Aves) display high metabolic rates and oxygen consumption relative to mammals, increasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation. Although excess ROS reduces lifespan by causing extensive cellular dysfunction and damage, birds are remarkably long-lived. We address this paradox by identifying the constitutive activation of the NRF2 master antioxidant response in Neoaves (~95% of bird species), providing an adaptive mechanism capable of counterbalancing high ROS levels. We demonstrate that a KEAP1 mutation in the Neoavian ancestor disrupted the repression of NRF2 by KEAP1, leading to constitutive NRF2 activity and decreased oxidative stress in wild Neoaves tissues and cells. Our evidence suggests this ancient mutation induced a compensatory program in NRF2-target genes with functions beyond redox regulation—including feather development—while enabling significant metabolic rate increases that avoid trade-offs with lifespan. The strategy of NRF2 activation sought by intense clinical investigation therefore appears to have also unlocked a massively successful evolutionary trajectory.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)