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Osmotic stress identified as stimulator of cellular waste disposal

Image of mouse astrocytes showing the actin cytoskeleton (red) and lysosomes (green) Credit: Tania Lopez-Hernandez Cellular waste disposal, where autophagy and lysosomes interact, performs elementary functions, such as degrading damaged protein molecules, which impair cellular function, and reintroducing the resulting building blocks such as amino acids into the metabolic system.

This recycling process is known to keep cells young and, for instance, protects against protein aggregation, which occurs in neurodegenerative diseases . But what, apart from starvation, actually gets this important system going? Researchers from the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) in Berlin have now discovered a previously unknown mechanism: osmotic stress, i.e. a change in water and ionic balance, triggers a response within hours, resulting in the increased formation and activity of autophagosomes and lysosomes.

The work, now published in Nature Cell Biology , describes the new signaling pathway in detail, and provides a crucial basis for improving our understanding of the impact environmental influences have on our cellular recycling and degradation system, and how this knowledge can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Our cells are occasionally in need of a “spring clean” so that incorrectly folded protein molecules or damaged cell organelles can be removed, preventing the aggregation of protein […]

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