Research highlight

A new antioxidant in cells

Nature Communications

March 7, 2012

A common chemical found in living cells can act as a powerful antioxidant, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week. The finding helps to understand how cells cope with oxidative stress, a condition which is observed in neurodegenerative diseases, amongst others. Free oxygen radicals are constantly produced in cells and need to be kept in check by cellular antioxidative defences. Studies in yeast suggested that the chemical gammaglutamylcysteine, a precursor of the antioxidant molecule glutathione, might have an antioxidant function, but how this worked remained unclear. Juan Bolanos and colleagues show that gamma--glutamylcysteine can act as a co-factor, or helper molecule, that improves the function of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase-1. They found that neurons that contained more of the chemical were less susceptible to a range of treatments that induce oxidative stress. The researchers also discovered that mice that produced more gamma-glutamylcysteine in the brain had improved motor function and less neuronal damage in a mouse model of neurodegeneration.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms1722

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