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Unexpected signaling role for foul-smelling hydrogen sulfide in cell response to protein misfolding
Date:12/13/2011

Cold Spring Harbor, NY -- Something rotten never smelled so sweet.

This is what members of a team of scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) are telling one another as they discuss a new finding they did not expect to make. They have discovered that hydrogen sulfide (H2S) the flammable, highly toxic gas that we usually associate with the smell of rotten eggs in landfills and sewers plays an important role in the regulation of a signaling pathway implicated in biological malfunctions linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, among others.

"H2S comes under the category of things that people think of as toxic and nasty, but which can actually be harnessed to serve a useful purpose," says CSHL Professor Nicholas K. Tonks, FRS, who led the research team. In fact, H2S, which is produced naturally in small quantities in various tissues, is a gasotransmitter, one of a family of gaseous signaling molecules that includes nitrous oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide (CO). Unlike growth factors, cytokines and hormones that act through receptors in the cell membrane, these gasotransmitters are able to permeate membranes and enter freely the interior of living cells.

Tonks and colleagues were intrigued by reports in the scientific literature suggesting that H2S was produced as part of the cell's response to what is called ER stress. The ER is the cellular organ called the endoplasmic reticulum. It is an extensive network of membranes spread throughout the cytosol, which is involved in protein synthesis and processing.

When the cell is placed under stress, specifically when newly formed proteins are being manufactured in the ER so rapidly that they do not fold properly, rendering them non-functional, the cell must make a decision either to slow down protein production to match its physiological requirements in the hope that proteins will begin to fold properly or, if that is not sufficient, to commit a form of suicid
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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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