Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Egor Plotnikov on the Mitochondria and the Benefit of Pregnancy

Egor Yurievich Plotnikov is the professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Biological Sciences, Head of the Mitochondria Structure and Function Laboratory in the Research Institute of Physical and Chemical Biology named after A.N. Belozersky.

He was born in 1980. He graduated with honors from the Cell Physiology and Immunology Department of the Moscow State University Biological Faculty, in 2001. He lectures the interfaculty course of MSU “Improvement of Human Nature. Life without Age”, and “Mitochondria Molecular Biology” course at the Bioengineering and Bioinformatics Department. Editorial board member of “Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine” and “Biochemistry” journals.

Interests: the study of the molecular mechanisms of acute kidney damage, stem cell biology, confocal laser microscopy, intravital microscopy.

Today we talk with Egor Plotnikov about the research on the functioning of mitochondria and the benefits of pregnancy:

What are the main directions of your studies?

One of the main areas of research in our laboratory is a study of the molecular mechanisms of acute renal pathologies. In particular, acute renal damage in ischemia. Precisely, we decided to analyze the impact of pregnancy on the body’s resistance to kidney damage.

Does it mean that pregnancy strengthens the health or weakens it?

There is a rather interesting contradiction in this area; all doctors know how mother body is exposed to heavy loads, including kidney, during pregnancy, and how this is dangerous. At the same time, in recent years, scientists have shown, in a number of works, that pregnancy enhances the body’s ability to regenerate, for example, it is proven for the muscles and the liver. Some authors even claim that pregnancy rejuvenates the body! These allegations have some foundation because statistics confirms that women giving birth live longer than nulliparae.

In our work we have shown, at least in the experimental animals, that pregnant animal kidneys are more resistant to ischemic damage. Taking into account that all ischemic damages are of similar nature, there is a high probability that these conclusions apply to such pathologies as stroke and heart attack. But it is yet to be investigated.

We have shown in the course of experiments that rat kidneys are more resistant to ischemic damage in the third trimester of pregnancy. Their excretory function after ischemia had been violated to a much lesser extent than in nonpregnant animals. We observed much less necrosis focuses in the kidneys, and less fibrosis focuses in two months, this indicates a higher organ regenerative potential.

We have also been able to prove that this is due to the enhanced proliferation of cells in the pregnant animals kidneys after injury, it is important that the hormonal imitation of pregnancy has copied the effect of pregnancy almost completely, that is, it also made the kidneys more resistant to ischemia.

Can you recommend a pregnancy as a way of healthier life or rejuvenation?

In fact, the results are not as amazing as it may seem. The mother’s body is really under a huge strain, and there is nothing strange in the existence of a mechanism to compensate for it. Another thing, that you must be aware of is the fact that to “recommend” pregnancy as a method of healthier life and even more rejuvenation is not worth it.

The discovered mechanism are designed to compensate for the strains, that the expectant mother is under, and if everything went smoothly then the cumulative effect for the organism can be positive. But pregnancy is associated with lots of possible complications, because of which in the medical practice it is considered to be a high risk factor. Our work is primarily important because it shows which aspects of pathology physicians should take into account in clinical practice. Apparently, in the case of renal pathology clinicians should pay more attention to the various complications associated with the fetus, and worry a little less directly about the kidney.

In the future we plan to explore from which other pathologies pregnancy protects the body and in which specific ways you can copy this effect with minimal side effects.

Did you get data in your research, on how mitochondria regulate the functioning of kidneys and water exchange in the body?

The functioning of mitochondria in kidneys has been studied for a long time, including by us. With regard to the pregnancy, we found no significant differences in the core functions of mitochondria in pregnant animals.

However, we have shown that mitochondria play a key role in the development of oxidative stress in kidney ischemia, and we can protect the kidneys from damage by protecting the mitochondria. A number of our works are dedicated to this using mitochondria-targeted antioxidants (on the basis of the so-called “Skulachov’s ions”).

Interview: Ivan Stepanyan

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