Washington: Researchers say they have identified a protein that acts as a powerful protectant against free radicals which cause cell damage and death, ageing and disease.
Scientists have sought new ways to repel free radicals for years.
Now, a new University of Michigan study outlines the discovery of a protein that acts as a powerful protectant against free radicals.
Ironically, the protein is activated by excessive free radicals. Human mutations of the gene for this protein are previously known to cause a rare, neurodegenerative disease.
Lysosomes, which comprise the cell's recycling centre, are crucial for cleaning up injured and dying parts of the cells, said lead researcher Haoxing Xu, associate professor at the University of Michigan (U-M) in the US.
When lysosomes "sense" an overload of free radicals, they activate a calcium channel on their membranes. This triggers the expression of many genes and the production of more and stronger lysosomes, which rev into overdrive to rid the damaged parts of the cells.
Free radicals are guilty in the ageing process, Xu said.
"If we have chemical compounds that can directly activate this channel, we can lower the oxidative stress in ageing and other diseases," he said.
"The result will be that cell damage and free radical levels could be reduced and one can possibly slow down ageing," said Xu.
The study was published online 30 June in Nature Communications.