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More detailed analysis of how cells react to stress

Stress in the body’s cells is both the cause and consequence of inflammatory diseases or cancer. The cells react to stress to protect themselves. Researchers at the University of Zurich have now developed a new technique that allows studying a fundamental response to stress in much more detail than previously possible: the ADP-ribosylation of chromatin. In the long term, this method could help finding ways of blocking disease-causing processes.

When cells are exposed to stress, different repair and detoxification mechanisms are triggered to protect the cells from being damaged. Stress is caused either by environmental factors or the the body’s reaction to inflammation, and can lead to cancer or cardiovascular diseases. The cells react by chemically modifying different proteins, which changes their activity and function. ADP-ribosylation is a central response in this stress reaction: enzymes place small molecules onto specific parts of a protein or remove them, thereby activating or deactivating the protein. This reaction turns on a cascade of processes that allows the cell to adapt to the stress and survive.

Cells in culture react to stress by massive ADP-ribosylation
Cells in culture react to stress by massive ADP-ribosylation (red) in the nucleus (blue)
Image: UZH