A Franco-Italian team has discovered that cells die at high temperatures due to the structural modification of just a few key proteins. This modification disrupts the dynamics of the cell medium and causes cell death.

These findings, published in the journal ACS Central Science, raise new questions about the mechanisms of cellular death and the role of temperature in the evolution of life on Earth.

The research also has implications for cancer treatment, as controlled increases in temperature are used to kill cancer cells. The team used neutron scattering spectroscopy and molecular dynamics simulations to show that only a small number of proteins unfold and cease functioning at temperatures approaching cell death.

These proteins alter the viscosity of the cell medium, potentially playing a crucial role in the process of cell death.