Proteins fix stress-induced cell damage

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 6th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A snowy day or sweltering heat wave might not stress you out. But for the tiny cells that make up your body, facing the weather can be a battle.

Without tiny overcoats or mittens, cells rely on proteins to keep them in working order during stressful weather. And one of these proteins is providing scientists with new clues about Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

University of North Carolina researchers have pinpointed how a protein dubbed CHIP [chip] helps cells weed out damage during stress. This helps the cell get back to its daily activities as soon as possible.

When cells sense an upsetting situation like cold weather, they send out their first line of stress defense… a band of molecules called heat shock proteins. These proteins seek out damaged proteins and help reshape them.

Some are damaged beyond repair though. That’s where the CHIP protein comes in. Like an inspector, CHIP scans the cell for proteins that can’t be saved, tagging them for removal. Once the damaged proteins are gone, CHIP targets heat shock proteins.

Cells react to stress to protect themselves, but staying on alert too long can also be damaging. Getting rid of the first-line defenders stops the stress response and helps cells carry on with their normal business.

Researchers hope to apply what they’ve learned to diseases that affect the way cells respond to stress, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The CHIP protein could provide new treatment options.

Think about that next time you’re shoveling snow.