The discovery should open new avenues to research on cancer, the scientists said.
The new study, to be published Friday in the journal Science by biochemists from Oregon State University and Wake Forest University, may also help resolve a significant debate in the science community about the role of hydrogen peroxide in cellular signaling and control of life processes.
This chemical would be recognized by most people as a common disinfectant found in the family medicine cabinet, used to cleanse wounds or a kitchen countertop.
But the new study provides strong evidence for how hydrogen peroxide is able to signal cells to divide, differentiate, or even commit suicide. These biochemical functions are essential to human life, and if they are dysfunctional may lead to cancer which, from a simple perspective, is uncontrolled cell division.
Hydrogen peroxide, like some other oxidative molecules, is usually a toxin were trying to get rid of, said Andrew Karplus, a professor of biochemistry at OSU. In most cases its an unnecessary byproduct that results from our processing of oxygen, which we need to live. And there is a considerable community of scientists who believe thats about all it is, a toxin that needs to be eliminated.
But another group of researchers, Karplus said, point to a wide range of evidence that hydrogen peroxide plays a key role in cellular signaling and communication a switch, in a way, thats only flipped on rare occasion but is critical to such cellular processes as division and programmed cell death. Its never been clear, however, exactly how the same chemical can be both an unwanted toxin and a chemical thats literally essential to the survival of higher life
Contact: Andrew Karplus
Oregon State University