Newly Discovered Control Switch Key to Saving Cells from Untimely Death

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Cell stress magnified by chronic disease

All of us undergo stress, but those dealing with chronic illnesses such as cancers, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and neurological degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are at an increased level of danger due to a naturally occurring cell stress control mechanism. However, according to a newly released study, there is evidence of a pathway that can negate the cell death sentence, vastly improving the future for patients. Discovery of the pathway will enable the development of new drug therapies for treating chronic disease.

Cells under stress

Cellular stress caused by disease causes a malfunction of the process that shapes protein. The stress interferes with the normal manufacture of three-dimensional protein, creating instead misshapen or unfolded protein, the opposite of what is needed for a healthy system. An internal mechanism known as the unfolded protein response (UPR) kicks into action and performs a correction to the process. Usually this is the end of the story. But, if the UPR does not succeed, then it signals to the cells to self-destruct. The problem is that UPR can send the kill message even when the stress is negligible.

Newly discovered Nonsense-mediated RNA decay pathway (NMD) controls UPR

The buzz generated by San Diego School of Medicine researchers is due to the discovery of a new pathway that gives hope for regulating or even canceling the actions of the UPR. The study, which was published in EMBO Reports, found that when there is cell stress, two pathways, the UPR and the nonsense-mediated RNA decay pathway (NMD), intersect, and the actions of the UPR are controlled. This dual pathway intersection protects cells impacted by mild stress from being killed. Researchers believe that NMD can raise the threshold of cell stress so that UPR is not triggered when the stress is not harmful. At the same time, they say that the role of UPR to bring about cell death is not impeded by the NMD.

By: Emma Henson