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Study finds damaged fertilized egg sends signal that helps mother to live a longer healthy life



A bad egg does good for its mother

Brief: A northwestern university study of circular worm C. elegans found the health of the fertilized embryo determines the functional health of the mother. Long: Offspring quality regulates proteostasis and stress resistance of reproductive mothers with consequences for cellular and organismal health. This previously described transgenerational regulatory mode occurs when embryonic integrity is compromised in CBD-1 mutant animals, triggering a protective response of the parent that prevents the reduction of heat shock response and thereby enhances organism-wide somatic proteostasis. Here is shown a fluorescent micrograph of pregnant adult C. elegans where the endogenous cbd-1 gene has been tagged with enhanced green fluorescent protein. The resulting fusion protein (blue) is expressed only in mature oocytes, where it is incorporated into the extracellular vitelline layer on the egg surface of fertilized embryos. Points: Northwestern University

There is plenty of scientific evidence that a mother’s health can affect her child’s health. Now a northwestern university study has turned the relationship around: Researchers have discovered the health of the fertilized embryo determines the functional health of the mother, which has consequences for healthy aging, stress resistance and suppression of protein damage.

Essentially, a bad egg does well by protecting the mother from cellular stress, making sure she lives longer and is healthy enough to produce the next generation.

Led by molecular biologist Richard I. Morimoto and postdoctoral doctor Ambre J. Sala, the research group studied the health of mothers using a popular research tool, the transparent circular mask C. elegans. This animal, whose cellular properties and protective mechanisms are similar to those of humans, is used by scientists to better understand aspects of human biology, such as aging and neurodegenerative disease.

Using the power of a genetic screen, the researchers discovered that if the eggshell in a fertilized egg is damaged, a molecular signal is sent to the mother to protect her from the negative effects of a human protein associated with neurodegeneration. They found that this signal also protects the mother from environmental stress, which makes her better able to survive adverse conditions. This gives her a longer functional health protection so that she has more time to produce healthy eggs.

“The success and future of all species is about the quality of its offspring,” Morimoto said. “Now we know that offspring quality ensures the health of the mothers.”

Morimoto is an expert on how organisms feel and respond to physiological and environmental stress at the molecular and cellular level in biology, aging and neurodegenerative disease. He is Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Molecular Life Sciences and Head of the Rice Institute for Biomedical Research at Northwest Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

This communication between child and parent is about protein quality control. Specifically, the researchers found that when the eggshell vitelline layer is damaged, that is when the fertilized egg sends a signal that restores stress resistance and protein homeostasis, or proteostasis, in the mother.

The vitelline layer, found in all metazones that use eggs, including humans, is the extracellular coat that surrounds and protects the developing embryo. Proteostasis is the process by which cells maintain protein health, keep important proteins weighted and functional, for good general health.

The study was recently published online by the journal Genes and development. It will also appear in the magazine’s print edition in May 2020. Morimoto is the corresponding author and Sala is the first author.

These findings are based on a previous study from the Morimoto lab that looked at the regulation of proteostasis by an animal reproductive system. In the 2015 study, researchers found that adult cells in C. elegans suddenly begin to slope when an animal reaches reproductive maturity. After the animal begins to reproduce, nuclear stem cells cast a genetic switch that starts the aging process by shutting off protective cell stress responses that protect against molecular damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other proteins in protein conformation.

In this new study, Morimoto’s team shows that communication between the embryo and the mother of reproductive adults also regulates proteostasis, stress resistance and maternal health. One implication of these results is that unhealthy offspring promote the health of the mother by preventing the occurrence of protein damage associated with proteins that cause neurodegeneration in humans.

“Aging is about a lack of protein quality control,” Morimoto said. “We found if the eggshell is damaged, the mother survives longer and has time to get good eggs and healthy offspring.”

The paper’s title is “Embryo Integrity Regulates Maternal Proteostasis and Stress Resilience.”


A little stress is good for cell health and longevity


Provided by
Northwestern University




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The study finds damaged fertilized egg sends signal that helps mother to live a longer healthy life (2020 April 8)
retrieved April 8, 2020
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