In this article the Proteasome, Endoplasmic Reticulum and Mitochondria (PERM) hypothesis is discussed. The complex machinery made by three homeostatic mechanisms involving the proteasome (P), endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and mitochondria (M) is addressed in order to elucidate the beneficial role of many xenobiotics, either trace metals or phytochemicals, which are spread in the human environment and in dietary habits, exerting their actions on the mechanisms underlying cell survival (apoptosis, cell cycle regulation, DNA repair and turnover, autophagy) and stress response. The “PERM hypothesis” suggests that xenobiotics can modulate this central signaling and the regulatory engine made fundamentally by the ER, mitochondria and proteasome, together with other ancillary components such as peroxisomes, by acting on the energetic balance, redox system and macromolecule turnover. In this context, reactive species and stressors are fundamentally signalling molecules that could act as negative-modulating signals if PERM-mediated control is offline, impaired or dysregulated, as occurs in metabolic syndrome, degenerative disorders, chronic inflammation and cancer. Calcium is an important oscillatory input of this regulation and, in this hypothesis, it might play a role in maintaining the correct rhythm of this PERM modulation, probably chaotic in its nature, and guiding cells to a more drastic decision, such as apoptosis. The commonest effort sustained by cells is to maintain their survival balance and the proterome has the fundamental task of supporting this mechanism. Mild stress is probably the main stimulus in this sense. Hormesis is therefore re-interpreted in the light of this hypothetical model and that experimental evidence arising from flavonoid and hormesis reasearch.
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