"Our results showed that there is a refined mechanism that the pancreas switches on to avoid the progression of the disease to a lethal condition. The paradoxical and amazing fact is that this protective process is a form of autophagy," Vaccaro says.
Autophagy is an evolutionarily preserved process during which a cell degrades its own components, essentially by eating them. It occurs for a number of reasons, but it's particularly important under conditions of starvation, when the cell eats up less important components to nourish more important ones to keep an organism alive. In this case, autophagy functions as a defense strategy that the cell uses to fight against the disease.
The team coined the new form of autophagy "zymophagy" because the dangerous components that get gobbled up are called zymogen granules.
"Therefore, a self-eating event within the cell protects the pancreas from self-digestion," Vaccaro says.
Acute pancreatitis is a painful disease that ranges from a mild and autolimited process to a severe and eventually lethal condition. Vaccaro says this protective cell-defense strategy could explain, at least in part, the autolimited form of the disease that seen in many patients.
"Hence, the more efficient zymophagic response by the pancreatic acinar cell, the less severity of the disease," she says. "Our study also identified the molecules that mediate the zymophagy. Therefore, it would be possible that in the future, a kind of test to evaluate zymophagy capacity in patients could help to predict the progression of the disease and modify the therapeutic approaches."
|Contact: Angela Hopp|
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology