In a new study, researchers found that proteins that play a vital part in allergies and parasitic infections can prevent the immune system from wrongly attacking the body and causing inflamed joints.
They hope that the results will give rise to new drugs for rheumatoid arthritis.
The research was conducted by a team from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
In protecting us against infections, our immune systems are vital to our survival. Unfortunately, immune cells can sometimes wrongly attack the body, resulting in what are called autoimmune diseases.
These diseases are often serious and affect some five percent of the population.
One example is rheumatoid arthritis, in which the patient’s immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain.
If scientists are to develop better treatments for such patients, they need to understand in detail how immune cells are regulated.
In the study, the team discovered that certain proteins called IL-4 and IL-13 can play an important part in preventing autoimmune attacks.
The proteins, which are secreted by immune cells in the presence of allergens or parasitic infections, influence the behavior of a specific type of immune cell called a neutrophil.
Neutrophils are commonly the most abundant immune cells found in the actively inflamed joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
They are particularly virulent against tissue since they can secrete various fairly non-specific tissue irritants.
The team found that these proteins prevent neutrophils from migrating into the inflamed joint.
The presence of IL-4 or IL-13 also stimulates an increase in neutrophil surface receptors which have an inhibiting effect on joint inflammation.
The team says they will continue to study these mechanisms and hope that their work can contribute to the development of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.
One author of the study is Fredrik Wermeling, assistant professor at the Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet.
The study is published in PNAS.
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