NU LogoFor all biological activities and the health of the cell, proteins are known to be vital. Misfolded and damaged proteins may cause a problem and are common to all human neuro-degenerative diseases and many other age-associated diseases. The latest research from Northwestern University claims that protein damage may be identified much earlier than usual and much before the individuals start to show symptoms. The research also proposes that the damage could be delayed if we intrude early enough.

After going through seven different proteins of the worm C elegans, the experts found that every protein apparently misfolds at the same point. This could be before the animal showed any behavioral or physiological change or before early adulthood and Folding seems to be affected by every protein that has a minor mutation.

The misfolding supposedly matches with the loss of a significant protective cellular mechanism. Mainly the capability to generate the heat shock response which is a very old genetic switch that senses damaged proteins and shelters cells by averting protein misfolding seems to be affected.

Lead researcher Richard I. Morimoto commented “I didn’t expect the results to be so dramatic, for these different proteins that vary in concentration and are expressed in diverse tissues to collapse at the same time. This suggests the animal’s protective cellular stress response becomes deficient during aging.”

The question that was lingering on the minds of the researchers was can the damaging events of protein misfolding be prevented or at least delayed. To search an the answer to this, the researchers gave the animals the equivalent of a vitamin, enhancing the heat shock response early in the animal’s development, before protein damage. The proteins didn’t begin misfolding until day 12 instead of misfolding around day four which is the counterpart of early adulthood in the worm. The average lifespan of a worm is noted to be around 21 days. Behavioral changes also didn’t appear to materialize for at least three days after misfolding.

Morimoto, Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Cell Biology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences commented “Our data suggest that, in terms of therapeutics, you have to start early to prevent damage and keep cells healthy. When you see a loss of function, it’s too late.”

In C. elegans, the genes that control lifespan were supposedly discovered. The transparent roundworm is a preferred organism as its biochemical environment and fundamental mechanisms are apparently akin to that of human beings and its genome or complete genetic sequence is known.

This research would be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).