Under Control to the Very End -- How Our Cells Kill Themselves
Published:12 Jul.2023    Source:University of Basel
Every day, millions of cells die in our body. Other than generally assumed, cells do not simply burst at the end of their lives but rather, a specific protein serves as a breaking point for cell membrane rupture. Researchers at the University of Basel have now been able to elucidate the exact mechanism at the atomic level. They have published their results in Nature.
Researchers have provided new insights into the final step of cell death. In the scientific journal "Nature," they describe how a protein called ninjurin-1 assembles into filaments that work like a zipper and open the cell membrane, thus leading to the disintegration of the cell. The new insights are an important milestone in the understanding of cell death. The scientists have been able to elucidate the mechanism by which ninjurin-1 induces membrane rupture at the level of individual atoms. Ninjurin-1 is a small protein embedded in the cell membrane.
Upon receiving the suicide command, two ninjurin-1 proteins initially cluster together and drive a wedge into the membrane. Large lesions and holes are formed by many further proteins attaching to the initial wedge. In this way, the cell membrane is cleaved open piece by piece until the cell disintegrates completely. The cell debris is then removed by the body's own cleaning service. It is now evident that the cells do not burst without ninjurin-1.