Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

In defence of pathogenic proteins

08.01.2016

Protein deposits in cells, such as those associated with diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, can also be beneficial – at least for yeast cells, as biochemists at ETH Zurich have discovered. The researchers found a new form of age-associated deposits in these cells, and they are now asking us to rethink our views on ageing and dementia.

We age because the cells in our bodies begin to malfunction over the years. This is the general view that scientists hold of the ageing process. For example, in older people the cells’ internal quality control breaks down.


Scientists found in yeast cells protein aggregates (light green spots). As cells age and divide, these aggregates become more frequent (micrograph).

Photo: ETH Zurich / Juha Saarikangas

This control function usually eliminates proteins that have become unstable and lost their normal three-dimensional structure. These deformed proteins accumulate in the cells in a number of diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

For Yves Barral, Professor of Biochemistry at ETH Zurich, the view of the ageing process as a consequence of flawed cell function and disease is too narrow. It ignores the fact that the mentioned so-called prion-like protein accumulations could have a positive effect, too, and therefore should not be referred to as cellular malfunction, he says.

Old cells cope better with stress

Barral drew this conclusion based on his research on yeast cells. He and his colleagues recently found in these cells a new type of protein aggregate, which appears as the cells get older. As the scientists were able to show, these protein aggregates do not arise as the result of a cell's malfunctioning internal quality control. On the contrary: in yeast cells with such aggregates, quality control functions even better.

"It certainly seems that these aggregates help yeast cells to cope with the physiological changes caused by ageing," says Juha Saarikangas, a postdoc in Barral's group and first author of the recent study in the journal eLife. "We are very exited to learn what type of information is stored in these structures."

The scientists assume that these age-associated aggregates are formed by several different proteins. The researchers have already identified one prion-like protein that is part of the accumulations. What other proteins are involved and why the aggregates remain in the parent cells during cell division are subjects of further research.

Aggregates improve memory

Only in recent years have scientists speculated that aggregating proteins in the cells can generally play a positive role. Barral and his research group showed back in 2013 that yeast cells memorise experiences related to unsuccessful sexual reproduction attempts in the form of aggregated proteins.

These aggregates – which are not identical to the newly discovered age-associated accumulations – thus serve as molecular memory for yeast cells. Even in mice there is a positive relationship between prion-like aggregates and memory. A few months ago, American scientists demonstrated that mice with such accumulations in their nerve cells exhibit a more stable long-term memory.

"Bad end to a good thing"

Whether such age-associated protein accumulations are primarily a malfunction or a normal function of healthy cells is for Barral a scientific question – one in which philosophy also plays a role: "Our western society understands ageing as something that is predominantly negative, a disease that has to be combated," he says.

"This thinking is reflected in the work of many scientists, whose research on ageing focuses on finding defects in cells." Other societies, however, place more value on the positive effects of ageing, such as increased experience and knowledge – a view that corresponds with the newly discovered role of aggregates as information storage or memory for cells.

"We're still a fairly small group of scientists who say: aggregate proteins are not pathological – they are neither an accident nor a defect," says Barral. Rather, these proteins aggregate because it is their normal function. Diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's only arise when the system becomes imbalanced and too many prion-like proteins accumulate in the wrong place in the cells. Barral continues: "There are two aspects to ageing. Yes, you die at the end of the process, and this is negative. But you die wise. And Alzheimer's is perhaps a bad end to a good thing."

Reference

Saarikangas J, Barral Y: Protein aggregates are associated with replicative aging without compromising protein quality control. eLife 2015, e06197, doi: 10.7554/eLife.06197

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2016/01/in-defence-of-patho...

Fabio Bergamin | ETH Zürich

Further reports about: ETH ageing process proteins three-dimensional structure

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Corporate coworking as a driver of innovation

22.11.2017 | Business and Finance

PPPL scientists deliver new high-resolution diagnostic to national laser facility

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>