Researchers have produced the strongest evidence yet that mitochondria — the organelles that generate energy to power the cell — also monitor oxygen concentration in the cell. If oxygen slips below a critical threshold, the mitochondrial “sensor” triggers protective responses to promote survival.
Understanding how the cell senses and protects itself against hypoxia (low oxygen) has both important basic and clinical implications for biology and medicine, said one of the study’s senior authors, M. Celeste Simon, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Pennsylvania. “Oxygen is absolutely essential for life, so the biological mechanisms underlying response to low oxygen are central to the cell,” she said. “For example, during early development, the embryo exists in a naturally hypoxic environment until it is connected to the maternal cardiovascular system.
“In the adult, changes in oxygen levels occur during inflammation and atherosclerosis; and even transient oxygen starvation can have a profound impact on the brain,” said Simon. “For example, the well-known case of the late Terry Schiavo, in which a cardiac episode reduced her to a vegetative state, was the result of only brief oxygen starvation.”
Jim Keeley | EurekAlert!
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