Identifying Genes that Control Cell Maintenance

The processes that keep cells clear of debris and otherwise well maintained are important in aging - what we know of autophagy should make that clear. Here, researchers are taking a brute force approach to enumerating the controlling mechanisms of cellular homeostasis: "To do its job properly within the cell, a protein first must fold itself into the proper shape. If it doesn't, trouble can result. More than 300 diseases have at their root proteins that misfold, aggregate and eventually cause cellular dysfunction and death. [The] research identifies new genes and pathways that prevent protein misfolding and toxic aggregation, keeping cells healthy, and also identifies small molecules with therapeutic potential that restore health to damaged cells, providing new targets for drug development. ... These discoveries are exciting because we have identified genes that keep us healthy and small molecules that keep us healthy. Future research should explain how these two important areas interact. ... [Researchers] tested all of the approximately 19,000 genes in C. elegans. They reduced expression of each gene one at a time and looked to see if the gene suppressed protein aggregation in the cell. Did the gene increase aggregation or lessen it or have no effect at all? The researchers found 150 genes that did have an effect. They then conducted a series of tests and zeroed in on nine genes that made all proteins in the cell healthier. ... These nine genes define a core homeostastis network that protects the animal's proteome (the entire set of proteins expressed by the organism) from protein damage. ... These are the most important genes. Figuring out how nine genes - as opposed to 150 - work is a manageable task."


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