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Age Accelerating “Zombie Cells” – A New Study Sheds Light on These Unique Cells - SciTechDaily

Age Accelerating “Zombie Cells” – A New Study Sheds Light on These Unique Cells - SciTechDaily

Age Accelerating “Zombie Cells” – A New Study Sheds Light on These Unique Cells - SciTechDaily
Aug 15, 2022 1 min, 26 secs

The study, which was recently published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, demonstrates for the first time that oxidative damage to telomeres — the protecting tips of chromosomes that behave like plastic caps at the end of a shoelace — can cause cellular senescence.

“Although zombie cells don’t function properly, they’re not couch potatoes — they actively secrete chemicals that promote inflammation and damage neighboring cells.

Our study helps answer two big questions: How do senescent cells accumulate with age, and how do telomeres contribute to that?”.

For decades, scientists have known that telomere shortening causes senescence in lab-grown cells, but they could only assume that DNA damage at telomeres could convert cells into zombies.

When researchers used a novel tool to induce oxidative damage specifically at telomeres, they can become fragile (green arrows), sending cells into senescence.

Using human cells grown in a dish, the researchers found that damage at telomeres sent the cells into a zombie state after just four days — much faster than the weeks or months of repeated cell divisions that it takes to induce senescence by telomere shortening in the lab.

“We found a new mechanism for inducing senescent cells that is completely dependent on telomeres,” explained Opresko, who also co-leads the Genome Stability Program at UPMC Hillman.

Cells have repair pathways to patch up DNA lesions, but, according to Opresko, telomeres are “exquisitely sensitive” to oxidative damage.

The researchers found that damage at telomeres disrupted DNA replication and induced stress signaling pathways that led to senescence.

“By reducing the accumulation of zombie cells, which contribute to degenerative diseases, we might be able to promote ‘healthspan’ — the length of time that a person is healthy,” he added.

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