Monash researchers have unlocked a key process in human cells – could this be a step towards fighting neurodegenerative diseases as well as delaying ageing?
Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute discovered the revelation of how cells efficiently get rid of cellular junk, which when it accumulates, can trigger death and the health problems associated with ageing.
Autophagy is the ‘clean-up crew’ of the cell, used by cells to break-down debris like broken proteins, parts of cell membrane, viruses or bacteria. To capture this waste, cells use specialised membranes to trap the cargo for recycling into new parts and energy.
Without efficient autophagy, cells become trapped by their own damaged components, which can contribute to the development of a range of chronic diseases, including diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Published data in Nature Communications, Dr Michael Lazarou’s laboratory from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have debunked previously held beliefs about how cells target their waste.
Delaying ageing through the targeting of cells
Cells target different types of cargo by using ‘autophagy receptors’, which can bind the cargo as well as the entangling membranes.
Until recently, these autophagy receptors were thought to recruit the membranes to the cargo, but research led by Dr Benjamin Padman from the Lazarou lab now shows that this is not the case.
The researchers removed the ability of autophagy receptors to bind the membranes and found that this did not halt the autophagy process. The researchers have instead discovered how cells amplify the rate of autophagy.
Padman explains: “The autophagy receptors weren’t recruiting the membranes, the membranes were recruiting more autophagy receptors to speed things up.”
According to Padman, there are a number of treatments and therapies that are currently under development globally which aim to control the activity of these proteins, “which according to our findings, don’t function the way we previously thought.”
“The clean-up crew of autophagy is always hard at work in our cells, but it can sometimes have trouble keeping up. If we can find drugs that target this amplification mechanism, we could help neuronal cells deal with the build-up of protein trash linked to Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.” Concludes Padman.