MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: Live Cell vs Recently Deceased

Date: Sun Jul 11 16:50:46 1999
Posted By: Michel Ouellet, Grad student in Microbiology / Immunology (medecine)
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 930197142.Cb


This is a very interesting question.  Researches are still quite unclear 
about this subject (from the literature I've reviewed at least) and most 
of the time, studies are being performed with lack of glucose and oxygen.

From what I could dig up, most cells in the body can live quite some time 
without oxygen.  However, excitable cells (like neurons and muscle cells) 
needs a lot of oxygen to perform their tasks.  And when they are deprived 
of oxygen and glucose for some time, they "lose" their excitability even 
when they are put back in oxygen and glucose.  So excitable cells may not 
die directly from lack of oxygen and glucose but they will not do their 
job anymore, which is bad for the body.  It appears that they lose their 
excitability because ATP-dependent channels close (because oxygen is 
needed to make ATP, the energy source of the cell) and the difference of 
concentration of salts (like potassium, calcium and sodium) between the 
exterior of the cell and the interior of the cell is decreased (i.e. more 
equal).  This difference in salt concentration is what give cells their 

Another important mechanism is apoptosis.  When a healthy cell does not 
receive enough oxygen for some time, it "decides" to commit suicide.  Such 
a cell, upon reoxygenation, could not revert its "decision" and will die 
anyway.  The advantage of this however is that the cell die cleanly, 
without alerting any lymphocyte (immune system).

When the stress is too important (complete lack of oxygen for too long), 
the cell do not have enough time to commit suicide and it dies very badly, 
the membrane explode, the cytoplasm (interior of the cell) spill out and 
lymphocyte and macrophages are attracted to this dead cell creating 

Cell homeostasis is a very delicate equilibrium and it only needs a small 
deficiency in nutrients or oxygen to break it and lead to cell death.   

I hope this answered your question, but clearly more research is to be 
done on this subject before I can be more precise.




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