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Genetic discovery has consequences for better immunity, longer life

  Caenorhabditis elegans
Caenorhabditis elegans. Credit: Wikipedia

Wrinkles on the skin of a microscopic mask can provide the key to a longer, healthier life for humans.

Working with Caenorhabditis elegans a transparent nematode found in soil, researchers at Washington State University & # 39; s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine were the first to discover that the nervous system controls the small worm's cuticle, a skin-like outer barrier, in response to bacterial infections. Their study was published today Science Advances .

Often used in biological research as a model organism, C. elegans nematode has a relatively simple structure while still sharing several genetic similarities with more complex mammals including humans, so this discovery also has implications for human health.

"Our study challenges the traditional view that a physical barrier such as a mask cuticle or human skin does not respond to infections but is part of the body's innate defense against a pathogen," said Associate Professor Jingru Sun, corresponding author on paper. "We show that the nematode during infection can change the cuticle structure and that the defense response is controlled by the nervous system."

Sun and her colleagues used techniques such as gene suppression and CRISPR gene editing to show that a G protein-coupled receptor bound to a gene called npr-8 regulates collagens, proteins that are the major structural components of the nematode's cuticle. Nematodes whose NPR-8 receptor was removed survived longer when exposed to the pathogens causing pneumonia, salmonella and staph infections. The sexes in the nematodes without the receptor also remained even compared to their wild mates whose cuticle wrinkled in response to the same pathogens.

"For nematodes, it is important to maintain a healthy cuticle that acts as the first line of defense against external insults," says Durai Sellegounder, lead author of the magazine and a postdoctoral fellow at Suns Lab. establish infection. Our results show that the nervous system can detect these attacks and respond by remodeling or strengthening this protective structure. "

Collagens are the most common proteins found in mammals. Decreasing collagen levels are associated with aging. For humans, collagen loss can create more problems than only ugly wrinkles, while nematodes only have an "extracellular matrix", the cuticles, humans have an extracellular matrix on each organ and if that matrix is ​​too rigid or too loose it can be harmful.

The results of the WSU study indicate that collagens plays an important role in defending pathogen infection, and the researchers speculate that neural regulation of collagens may also play a role in overall lifespan, with their next goal being to understand the underlying mechanisms of defense response.

Protein involved in nematode stress response identified

More information:
"Neuronal GPCR NPR-8 regulates C. elegans defense against pathogen infection" Science Advances (201
9). advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/11/eaaw4717

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Washington State University

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Genetic discovery has consequences for better immunity, longer life (2019, November 20)
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