Friday , January 15 2021

A switch to the immune system



Researchers in Vienna have found a mechanism that turns or disables the immune system. This could open new pathways in cancer therapy and in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.

Judging body weapons against tumors is the idea behind cancer immunotherapy. This approach was followed by a research team from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) along with international colleagues. They examined a substance that actually plays an important role in the human nervous system, a block of construction of dopamine and serotonin "hormones of happiness."

Two active substances regulate the immune system

Research shows that a block of construction of this hormone of happiness, BH4, activates the immune system. Because BH4 turns T cells in and out, says cell biologist Shane Cronin of IMBA, lead author of the study. "If there is a lot of BH4, then T cells turn on, they're ready to fight and become aggressive," says Cronin.

The cell biologist and colleagues at IMBA, Harvard University and Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg have been able to identify two active substances that use this mechanism and thus regulate the immune system. "BH4 is already on the market for a different purpose," says Cronin. The other active ingredient was discovered and tested by scientists. You can now selectively switch T cells on or off.

IMBA Video on Research Results

An important candidate for cancer therapy

This makes BH4 an important candidate for future cancer immunotherapy, as T-activated cells sense and fight against cancer cells. Initial experiments on mice have already been successful. The other drug that Cronin and his colleagues discovered did exactly the opposite: regulates BH4 and causes the immune system to close.

By reducing BH4, it can regulate hyperactive T cells that attack healthy cells in the body in autoimmune diseases, says Cronin. In ulcerative colitis of inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, allergies and asthma, scientists have already been successful in the mouse model. The new drug not only stopped BH4 and therefore T cells, but it calmed the entire immune system. Both therapeutic approaches, those against autoimmune and anti-cancer, will be clinically tested over the next few years.

It can also be conceived as an antidepressant

If medicines are successful in the patient, they could come into the market in a few years. Meanwhile, Cronin wants to continue its research in a different direction: Because BH4 affects the "hormone of happiness" serotonin and thus people's mood, the cell biologist wants to investigate more closely the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system.

"Perhaps we can also increase serotonin levels in the brain with the same or similar medicine," says Cronin. This could not only make progress in the treatment of depression, but also in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, so hope the scientist.

Marlene Nowotny, Ö1-Wissenschaft

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