When cells are functioning normally the DNA structure within them is open in order for molecules to be able to access parts of the genetic code that it contains. This is so that important proteins can be instructed to be made and allow the cell to function.
A new study has found that when a cell is starved of oxygen it results in the DNA strand coiling up and compacting itself into tight clusters. This means that molecules cannot access the DNA strand, the genes cannot be read as easily and the cell’s activity is reduced and the cell effectively shuts down resulting in cell death.
This starved state is seen in common diseases like heart attacks, stroke and cancer. However it is also important for those that suffer from any condition that results in low oxygen levels in the body such as COPD, sleep apnoea and asthma. Low levels of oxygen trying to circulate around the body tend to be prioritised to the more important organs and other areas see low/starved oxygen levels. It highlights the importance of monitoring your oxygen levels and ensuring that you use your supplemental oxygen to ensure that you have adequate levels of oxygen in your body.
If low oxygen results in DNA compaction and cell death then it could help to explain why COPD sufferers often experience a combination of various other health conditions and diseases.
When a person suffers a heart attack or stroke, it can cause long-term damage because the restricted blood supply to the heart and brain starves the affected cells of oxygen and nutrients (ischemia). Oxygen starvation (hypoxia) can also result from other disease conditions, such as in cancer tumours. When this happens to cells in the heart, it leads to a heart attack and when it happens in the brain, it leads to a stroke.
Senior author Dr. George Reid explains:
“When you have a stroke, when you have a heart attack, this is likely to be what’s happening to your DNA. Now we know that this is what’s going on, we can start to look at ways of preventing this compaction of DNA.”
If drugs for example can be developed to prevent this DNA contraction then it may prevent long-term damage from strokes and heart attacks as well as a host of other medical conditions that afflict suffers of respiratory diseases.