How can cells of the human body respond quickly to physical and chemical changes in their environment?
Although genetic mutations can cause changes to a cell’s properties, non-genetic mechanisms can drive rapid adaptation, in a phenomenon broadly termed cell plasticity.
Cell plasticity is involved in fundamental biological processes in health and disease.
For example, tumour cells can shift from a highly proliferative state to a more invasive state, and thus contribute to cancer metastasis.
During inflammation, immune cells can transform into cells that execute the inflammatory response and promote tissue repair.
A research group at Institut Curie in Paris now found a new culprit of these processes on a molecular level; work that was published recently in the scientific journal Nature.
The researchers found that cells responsible for metastasis formation or immune cells implicated in inflammation and sceptic shock have increased amounts of copper, which is responsible for changes in cell plasticity.
In detail, copper accumulates in mitochondria of the cells, which are organelles responsible for energy production.
Furthermore, the scientists developed a new small drug-like molecule, based on the anti-diabetes drug metformin, which can block these processes by binding and inactivating this copper.
Since more than 11 million people die of septic shock in the world per year and 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastases, there is now big hope that this can be developed into new medications, which could help many patients on a global scale.
Source: Institut Curie
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