The paper, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involves a causal experiment to kick off a mitochondrial chain reaction that wreaks havoc on the cell, all the way down to the genetic level.
"I like to call it 'the Chernobyl effect' -- you've turned the reactor on and now you can't turn it off," said senior author Bennett Van Houten, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and chemical biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. "You have this clean-burning machine that's now polluting like mad, and that pollution feeds back and hurts electron transport function. It's a vicious cycle."
Van - Houten - Team - Technology - Marcel
Van Houten's team used a new technology invented by Marcel Bruchez, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, that produces damaging reactive oxygen species -- in this case, singlet oxygen -- inside the mitochondria when exposed to light.
"That's the Chernobyl incident," Van Houten said. "Once you turn the light off, there's no more singlet oxygen anymore, but you've disrupted the electron transport chain, so after 48 hours, the mitochondria are still leaking out reactive oxygen -- but the cells aren't dying, they're just sitting there erupting."
Point - Nucleus - Cell - Radicals - Contorts
At this point, the nucleus of the cell is being pummeled by free radicals. It shrinks and contorts. The cell stops dividing. Yet, the DNA seems oddly intact.
That is, until the researchers start looking specifically at the telomeres -- the protective caps on the end of each chromosome that allow them to continue replicating and replenishing. Telomeres are extremely small, so DNA damage restricted to telomeres alone may not show up in a whole-genome test, like the one the researchers had been using up to this...
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