Reactive oxygen in fruit flies acts as a cell signalling mechanism for immune response

Sep 24, 2009 By Kim Irwin

(PhysOrg.com) -- For years, health conscious people have been taking antioxidants to reduce the levels of reactive oxygen in their blood and prevent the DNA damage done by free radicals, which are the result of oxidative stress. But could excessive use of antioxidants deplete our immune systems?

Research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has raised that question.

It has been known for decades that reactive oxygen species (ROS) - ions or very small molecules that include free radicals - damage cells. But much to their surprise, Jonsson Cancer Center researchers found that in Drosophila, the common fruit fly, moderately elevated levels of ROS are a good thing.

These small molecules act as an internal communicator, signaling certain blood , or blood , to differentiate into immune-bolstering cells in reaction to a threat. After the differentiate, the ROS levels return to normal, ensuring the safety and survival of the mature , said Utpal Banerjee, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and senior author of the study.

The study is published in the Sept. 24, 2009 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

The new finding was launched when Banerjee and his team set out to discover why had naturally occurring, slightly elevated levels of ROS in their blood cell precursors, which is atypical of most other precursor cells.

"Reducing levels of reactive oxygen is usually the goal, and what we found was surprising," said Banerjee, professor and chairman of the molecular, cell, and developmental biology department at UCLA. "Most stem cells don't want to be damaged, so they have very low ROS levels. We wanted to know why this was different in the cells that we were investigating."

Banerjee discovered that when ROS was taken away in the blood stem cells, they failed to differentiate into the immune-bolstering cells, called macrophages. On the other hand, when levels of ROS were further increased by genetic means, the blood stem cells "differentiated like gang busters," Banerjee said, making a large number of macrophages.

But how did this happen? The ROS, Banerjee said, acted as a signaling mechanism that kept the blood stem cells in a certain state - when levels rose, it was a message to the cell to differentiate.

The implications from the finding are several fold, Banerjee said. The blood stem cells are stress sensing cells, their function is to sense conditions that increase oxidative stress and react with an immune response. Keeping their ROS levels slightly elevated puts the cells on alert, sensitized and ready to respond to any threat quickly.

That sparked a question: If fruit fly blood stem cells and mammalian blood stem cells operate in the same way, is it a good thing for people to be taking antioxidants? Are antioxidants dulling the and its ability to react to threats?

"On the one hand, it's good to have antioxidants to reduce the amount of reactive oxygen in our body that causes ," Banerjee said. "But if we find that those blood stem cells aren't primed to respond because the ROS levels are reduced, that would not be a good thing. Our findings raise the possibility that wanton overdose of antioxidant products may in fact inhibit formation of cells participating in innate immune response."

It is known that certain types of mammalian blood stem cells, called common myeloid progenitors, do have elevated levels of ROS, but it isn't known whether those levels operate as messengers for differentiation. Studies of mammalian systems are needed to determine why ROS levels are elevated and what, if any, function that serves in the cell. It is interesting, however, that these types of blood progenitors in mammals also give rise to macrophages, Banerjee said.

"What we found is that the fruit fly keeps its own ROS levels in the blood stem cells slightly high for its own benefit," Banerjee said. "We do not have any direct evidence that this is true in humans, but our results suggest that further studies are needed to investigate a possible signaling role for ROS in the differentiation of precursor cells in mammalian myeloid cell development and oxidative stress response."

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

Explore further: The malaria pathogen's cellular skeleton under a super-microscope

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

An Achilles heel in cancer cells

Dec 08, 2008

A protein that shields tumor cells from cell death and exerts resistance to chemotherapy has an Achilles heel, a vulnerability that can be exploited to target and kill the very tumor cells it usually protects, researchers ...

Recommended for you

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

17 hours ago

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

Rapid and accurate mRNA detection in plant tissues

18 hours ago

Gene expression is the process whereby the genetic information of DNA is used to manufacture functional products, such as proteins, which have numerous different functions in living organisms. Messenger RNA (mRNA) serves ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

Apr 16, 2014

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.