Oxidative stress turns a protein that normally protects healthy cells into their executioner, according to a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Alvaro Estevez, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida's College of Medicine, led the multi-university team that made the discovery, which could eventually help scientists develop new therapies to combat a host of conditions from stroke to Lou Gehrig's disease
Researchers have long known that oxidative stress damages cells and results in neurodegeneration, inflammation and aging. It was commonly believed that oxidation made a "crude," demolition-like attack on cells, causing them to crumble like a building in an earthquake, Estevez said. However, the latest findings show that oxidation results in a much more targeted attack to specific parts of the cell. Oxidative stress damages a specific "chaperone" cell protein called Hsp90. It plays a role in up to 200 different cell functions. But when a form of oxidative stress called tyrosine nitration modifies that protein, it turns into the cell "executioner" shutting it down.
"The concept that a protein that is normally protective and indispensable for cell survival and growth can turn into a killing machine, and just because of one specific oxidative modification, is amazing," said Maria C. Franco, a postdoctoral associate at UCF's Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. She co-wrote the study. "Considering that this modified protein is present in a vast number of pathologies, it gives us hopes on finding new therapeutics approaches for several different diseases."