Dartmouth Medical School geneticists have found links in the cell death machinery of worms and mammals, opening new avenues for studying and targeting a process vital to development and implicated in cancer and autoimmune diseases.
The work, reported in the February 17 issue of Nature, demonstrates the role of mitochondria, the cellular power plant, in prompting worm cells to self destruct. These results unify cell death models along the evolutionary spectrum, from simple animal systems to humans. In spite of its name, programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is essential for life; its needed for nervous system development and it keeps the body up and running. Miscues and failures are instrumental in cancer, autoimmune disorders or neurodegenerative diseases.
Mitochondria, the organelles responsible for producing energy to fuel cell processes, also appear to release molecules that set the cell death program in motion. While their activity in mammalian cell death was known, mitochondrial involvement in worms had not previously been shown.
Hali Wickner | EurekAlert!
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