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Soil bacterium research sheds new light on Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

In a prime example of basic bacterial research informing human disease research, microbiologists have identified a potential mechanism for neurodegenerative diseases:

A role for the protein HSD10 had been suspected in patients with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, but no direct connection had previously been established. This new breakthrough suggests that HSD10 reduces oxidative stress, promotes cell repair and prevents cellular death.

The authors first discovered that an enzyme related to HSD10, CsgA, produces energy during sporulation in the bacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Spores enable cells to survive under nutrient-limiting conditions and can be thought of as the bacterial version of plant seeds. CsgA was found to degrade the phospholipid cardiolipin into fragments that were used as energy sources during sporulation much the same way humans produce and burn fat. Though normally a component of the lipid layer surrounding the cells, cardiolipin becomes dispensable as cells shrink to become spores.

The study was published Sept. 3 in the early online edition of Genes & Development.

In humans, this mechanism of cardiolipin degradation seems to have been appropriated for a different purpose. Cardiolipin is also found in mitochondria, where it surrounds and protects the energy-making machinery from oxidative stress.

The effect of oxidative stress at the protein level is showing up in an increasing number of unrelated medical/health research studies, from Lutein in the eye to cancer research. It's amazing to think what thresholds and breakthroughs researchers may be in proximity to, investigating human health on so many fronts at once and making connections where they had not existed. The novelty of enzymatic chemists and microbiologists contributing key new insights across disciplines is reflective of the scholarly tenacity that at least equals new technological and data capacities. Great work from the Shimkets lab.

Image: cardiolipin triggers apoptosis, via wikimedia commons.


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