Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scientists identify key protein in immune response to allergies and worms

Researchers have found a new way that the body controls inflammation when it is responding to parasitic worm infections or during allergy reactions like asthma attacks.

The researchers - led by a team from The University of Manchester in the UK - report their work in the journal Nature Communication.
They believe their findings will lead to new treatments for controlling inflammation during worm infections and allergic reactions like asthma.
Senior author Andrew MacDonald - professor in the department of life sciences and also of the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research - says:
"With billions of people affected by both allergies and worm infections around the world it is vital that we develop better methods of treatment."
He explains that he and his colleagues are working in this area because despite the devastating global impact of worm infections and allergies, there are no effective vaccines or refined treatments, and our understanding of the cell types and mediators that control our inflammation and immune response to them is limited.
For their study, the researchers focused on dendritic cells - one of the first responders to worms or allergens. Dendritic cells recognize the type of infection and switch on the appropriate inflammation response by activating a particular subset of helper T cells.
However, while we know this much, the underlying biology of the recognition and response to worms and allergens is still somewhat of a mystery. For example, how do the dendritic cells activate the helper T cells?

Mbd2 protein plays key role in dendritic cell response to worms and allergens

To explore the question of how dendritic cells activate the helper T cells, the Manchester team studied dendritic cells in culture and in mice as they reacted to parasitic worms and lung allergens such as house dust mites.
They found that a protein called Mbd2 plays a key role - when they removed it from the dendritic cells they behaved very differently and could not activate the helper T cells.
The researchers also discovered how Mbd2 regulates dendritic cell genes. It alters gene expression without changing underlying DNA sequences, a process known as "epigenetic" control.
In their paper, they highlight how in recent years it has become clear that epigenetic mechanisms play an important role in regulating many aspects of T cell generation and function.
Prof. MacDonald summarizes the results and implications of the study:

"For the first time we have identified that this protein is a key controller of dendritic cells during inflammation against parasitic worms or allergens. It's an important step, as all inflammation is not identical, and scientists try to understand which specific cells and chemicals are more important in the body's response to particular infections."

He explains that in the past, drugs have tended to take a broad approach, tackling all aspects of a disease rather than targeting any specific one. Studies like theirs, mean that:
"In the future it might be possible to create medicines that control the inflammation caused specifically by an allergy or a parasitic worm, rather than by a virus such as a common cold."
Prof. MacDonald also notes that it is important to tackle the inflammation that these conditions cause, because we know that they can develop into longer-term diseases such as asthma.
In February 2015, Medical News Today reported how researchers from Imperial College London, UK, discovered 30 new genes tied to asthma and allergies. Their study also focused on epigenetic influences as opposed to DNA alterations.

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