Immune Pathway Identified, Offers Possible Target For Future MS Treatment

Researchers from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have identified a new pathway that may help in controlling the immune balance. Further study into this new pathway may possibly lead to new medications that will block other autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis or the discovery of new anti-rejection drugs. The recent study was published in the online issue of Nature Immunology.

The new pathway that was identified by the researchers deals with the regulation of specialized T lymphocytes, cells in the immune system that plays a role in the inflammatory response of the body. The researchers also determined that two drugs that dampen the inflammatory response in MS patients in different ways target this new pathway.

According to Hongbo Chi, Ph.D., assistant member of the St. Jude Department of Immunology and the senior author of the study, “The success or failure of the immune response requires T cells to make the right decision about their fate.” T cells are white blood cells that drive and modulate how the immune system responds. They can be differentiated into two with the T-helper 1 cells that drive inflammation during an immune response and the regulatory T cells work to shut down the said response, protecting healthy tissues from being affected by misguided immune attacks.

“In this paper we describe the receptor that controls the cell fate determination of different subsets of T cells; controlling the choice to become either an inflammatory or a regulatory T cell,” Chi added.

The researchers found out that T cell response is regulated by a lipid that the T cell secretes rather than by a protein known as a cytokine. If the findings are confirmed, it would be the first time researchers know that a lipid, as opposed to a protein, may be serving as a signaling function in T cells.

The researchers used both cultured cells and specially bred mice to link the S1P1 receptor to the fate of the two T cell sub-types. This action activates a pathway that drives the cells to become a pro-inflammatory Th1cell. The Th1 cell drives other components of the immune system to act against a perceived infection and other threats. At the same time, the S1P1 activation may also affect the differentiation of the regulatory T cells. Researchers are now concentrating on trying to understand the pathways in more detail.


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