Scientists shed new light on role of immune system in allergies
A team of European scientists have discovered a mechanism which can lead to hay fever and other allergies by stopping the immune system from regulating itself properly. They hope their findings will lead to new treatments for these conditions by restoring the function of the immune system.
In healthy people, regulatory T-cells suppress pro-allergic cells called Th2 cells and so prevent the immune system from needlessly attacking the body. In contrast, in people with allergies, some types of immune system cells, such as Th2 cells, wrongly identify allergens, such as pollen, as being dangerous. Whenever the allergy sufferer encounters the allergen again, these cells promote the production of antibodies to attack it, causing an allergic reaction.
The new research reveals that a gene called GATA-3 plays a role in this process by preventing the production of regulatory T-cells. It does this by blocking the action of another gene, FOXP3, which is key to the production of new regulatory T-cells.
'This finding will help us to understand how healthy individuals are able to tolerate allergens and what we need to do to re-induce tolerance in the immune systems of patients with allergies,' explained Dr Carsten Schmidt-Weber of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London in the UK. 'We hope that we will soon be able to help not only patients suffering from single allergies, but also those with multiple ones - the atopic patients.'
Dr Schmidt-Weber and his colleagues arrived at their findings after analysing the genes involved in the regulation of T-cells and studying how they interacted with one another. The scientists hope that therapeutic agents designed to neutralise the activity of GATA-3 could boost the production of regulatory T cells and thereby improve tolerance in allergy sufferers.
The researchers, from the UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland, published their results in the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology.
Data Source Provider: Imperial College London, PLOS Biology
Document Reference: Mantel PY et al. (2007) GATA3-Driven Th2 Responses Inhibit TGF-ß1-Induced FOXP3 Expression and the Formation of Regulatory T Cells. PLOS Biology, Vol. 5, No. 12, e329, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050329.
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