Sunday, January 16, 2011
Scientists find the 'master switch' for key immune cells in inflammatory diseases
Scientists have identified a protein that acts as a "master switch" in certain white blood cells, determining whether they promote or inhibit inflammation. The study, published in the journal Nature Immunology, could help researchers look for new treatments for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that involve excessive inflammation.
Inflammatory responses are an important defence that the body uses against harmful stimuli such as infections or tissue damage, but in many conditions, excessive inflammation can itself harm the body. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints become swollen and painful, but the reasons why this happens are not well understood.
Cells of the immune system called macrophages can either stimulate inflammation or suppress it by releasing chemical signals that alter the behaviour of other cells. The new study, by scientists from Imperial College London, has shown that a protein called IRF5 acts as a molecular switch that controls whether macrophages promote or inhibit inflammation.
The results suggest that blocking the production of IRF5 in macrophages might be an effective way of treating a wide range of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, boosting IRF5 levels might help to treat people whose immune systems are compromised.