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Cellular metabolism self-adapts to protect against free radicals
Date:9/7/2011

This press release is available in German.

Oxygen-consuming organisms obtain energy through cellular respiration, which is the transformation of carbohydrates and oxygen into carbon dioxide and water. This process also produces toxic oxygen radicals which must be decomposed immediately, as they would otherwise cause damage to cells. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have now discovered a mechanism, with whose help cells can coordinate respiratory activity and the degradation of free radicals. Thus, the cells prepare their metabolism for free radicals before they even arise.

Cellular respiration is a very efficient process through which a lot of energy is generated from a few sugar molecules and oxygen. However, up to two percent of the oxygen used in this process is transformed into superoxide, a free radical that is toxic to cells. A considerable proportion of this superoxide evades the respiratory chain of the mitochondria and poses a threat to biological macromolecules like DNA, RNA, proteins and fatty acids. However, evolution has equipped eukaryotic cells with comprehensive mechanisms that can decompose free radicals which arise in the cell and therefore prevent damage to the cell. These mechanisms work extremely efficiently and are well coordinated so that, contrary to popular belief, the treatment of healthy tissue with natural or synthetic antioxidants can disrupt the natural balance and, at worst, damage cells and accelerate the aging process.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics compared respiring and non-respiring yeast cells. When respiration was activated, there was a direct increase in the cells' tolerance to oxidised substances; however, contrary to expectation, this was not accompanied by a rise in the concentration of free radicals. This proved that respiring cells are
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Contact: Dr. Patricia Marquardt
patricia.marquardt@molgen.mpg.de
49-308-413-1716
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert

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