Health and Medicine

The Fight Against Free Radicals Becoming Stronger than Ever


It is known that free radicals cause cell damage, aging, disease and even death and this is why scientists have been looking for ways to repel them for many years. A new University of Michigan study outlines the discovery of a protein that acts as a powerful protectant against free radicals. The protein is activated by excessive free radicals. Human mutations of the gene for this protein are known to cause rare, neurodegenerative disease.

Lysosomes comprise the cell’s recycling center and are crucial for the cleanup of injured and dying parts of cells according to researcher Haoxing Xu, a U-M associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

free radicals
The red dye in the cell outlining healthy mitochondria in a healthy cell. (Images credits: Haoxing Xu)

When lysosomes pick up on an overload of free radicals, they activate a calcium channel on their membranes. This is what triggers the expression of many genes and the production of more and even stronger lysosomes, which rev into an overdrive state in order to rid the damaged parts of the cells. Free radicals are what lead to the aging process, says Xu. He continues that if we have chemical compounds that can directly activate this channel, we can then lower the oxidative stress in aging and other diseases. The result will be that cell damage and free radical levels could be reduced, and one can possibly even slow down aging altogether.

Green dye shows damaged mitochondria that can’t be removed due to impaired ROS sensing mechanisms. (Image credits: Haoxing Xu)

Many have questioned how the body tells itself that there are too many free radicals so that they can be reduced in number or completely removed. The study tells us just how that is done. He goes on to say that nature is really cool. The janitor of the cell, the lysosome has this radical-sensing ability that it uses in order to keep things clean and organized to maximize cell functioning.

The full study was published in Nature Communications journal.