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Wounds Healed By Cancerous Free Radicals

Update Date: Oct 13, 2014 06:49 PM EDT
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Previously assumed harmful "free radicals" might actually improve wound healing, a new study suggests.

Previous research reveals that free radicals accelerate aging by damaging DNA, RNA and other proteins, but new findings revealed that free radicals produced by mitochondria, which are energy-producing structures in cells, may actually help heal wounds.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego found that oxygen-containing chemically reactive molecules called "reactive oxygen species" are essential for the proper healing of skin wounds in the roundworm C. elegans.

Furthermore, these free radicals, which include peroxides, can help quicken the process of wound healing.

"There are many ways you can generate ROS in the cell, but no one had looked in the mitochondria in detail," researcher Andrew Chisholm, a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who conducted the study with Suhong Xu, a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory, said in a news release. "Our discovery was surprising because we didn't realize that mitochondria were playing these roles in wound healing."

Too much reactive oxygen species in the cell is bad. However, eliminating them altogether seemed to prevent wound healing in roundworms.

"It appears you need some optimal level of ROS signaling," explains Chisholm. "Too much is bad for you, but too little is also bad. We discovered in our experiments that when we knocked out the genes that produced ROS in the mitochondria and eliminated antioxidants, the roundworms had trouble closing up their wounds. We also found that a little more ROS helped the wounds close faster than normal."

While the latest findings have only been seen in roundworms, researchers believe they could also apply to more complex animals like mammals.

"We suspect that these genetic pathways are conserved, so that they would apply to vertebrates and mammals as well," said Chisholm.

The findings are published in the journal Developmental Cell.

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