Researchers have discovered an interesting “brake” mechanism in the immune cells of our gut that could be key to treating inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
By understanding this natural “stop” signal for inflammation, scientists hope to develop more targeted treatments for these conditions.
The Puzzle of Inflammation in the Gut
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis cause painful and chronic inflammation in the digestive system.
While some treatments are available, they often suppress the immune system all over the body, leading to unpleasant side effects and making people more prone to infections.
That’s why doctors and researchers are keen to find treatments that specifically target the gut.
The “Brake” Protein in Gut Cells
The study was led by Dr. Venuprasad Poojary at UT Southwestern. His team knew that an immune molecule called IL-17 is often found in high levels in people with severe IBD symptoms.
Drugs that lower IL-17 have been used to treat skin conditions like psoriasis but haven’t worked well for IBD. So, the researchers started looking for other molecules that interact with IL-17 in the gut.
What they found was quite interesting. There’s a protein called Pak2 in the gut’s immune cells. Think of Pak2 like the brakes on a car.
When the researchers blocked Pak2 in mice, the animals developed symptoms similar to IBD, such as weight loss and colon inflammation. On the flip side, when Pak2 was present, it reduced these symptoms.
Dr. Poojary and his team discovered that Pak2 works by binding to another protein called RORgt. While RORgt acts like a gas pedal, speeding up inflammation by increasing IL-17, Pak2 slows it down by “turning off” RORgt.
Next Steps and Wider Implications
Now, the research team is working on developing drugs that could tap into the Pak2 “brake” to control inflammation more effectively.
Dr. Poojary mentioned that their findings could help treat other inflammatory diseases as well, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Understanding how to apply the “brake” in our body’s immune cells opens up a new avenue for targeted, effective treatment.
It’s a promising step forward in the quest to improve life for millions of people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions.
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The research findings can be found in Cell Reports.
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