cell biology: salt causes DNA damage in cells

Natalia Dmitrieva of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and her colleagues have shown that high concentrations of salt can damage DNA and the cellular mechanisms that would otherwise repair it. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition this week, the researchers report these results after culturing mouse cells in salt solutions. The cells appeared outwardly normal, but upon closer examination, it was shown that there were gaps in their DNA. The researchers also found that a protein that initiates DNA repair was unable to enter the nucleus of the cell, where the DNA resides. (Once salt concentrations were returned to normal, the protein was able to repair the damaged DNA again.) But was this purely a lab phenomenon? Cells in the kidneys, for example, are exposed to greater amounts of salt than other cells due to their involvement in regulating salt excretion in the body. Sure enough, the researchers found DNA damage and inhibited DNA repair in the kidneys of normal mice as well.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 2/10/2004.
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