Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's could be staved off by eliminating one element from the cell, research has shown.
Scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio found that cells lacking in caspase-2 could withstand damage by pesticides to the mitochondria - the energy centre of cells.
This indicates that caspase-2 plays a key role in cell death or survival, depending on the amount of damage inflicted.
Senior author Brian Herman explained that these findings could have significant implications for the treatment of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a form of motor neurone disease.
"Identifying initiators in the cell death process is important for determining therapeutic approaches to provide the maximum protection of neurons during neurodegenerative conditions," he said.
Meanwhile, research by Johnson & Johnson has indicated that experimental Alzheimer's drug Bapineuzumab is able to attack free floating bits of beta amyloid thought to be key in the development of the condition.