Wednesday , June 23 2021

A switch for the immune system



Vienna researchers have found a mechanism that turns on or off the immune system. This can open new pathways in cancer therapy and in the treatment of autoimmune diseases as multiple sclerosis.

Judging the body's own weapons against tumors is the thought behind cancer therapy. This approach was followed by a research group from the Molecular Biotechnology Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) together with international colleagues. They have investigated a substance that actually plays an important role in the human nervous system, a building block of "happiness hormones" dopamine and serotonin.

Two active substances regulate the immune system

Research shows that a building block of this good luck hormone, BH4, activates the immune system. Because BH4 activates and deactivates the T cells, said cell biologist Shane Cronin from IMBA, the leading author of the study. "If there is a lot of BH4, the T-cells turn on, are ready to fight and become aggressive," says Cronin.

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

IMBA video on the research results

Important candidate for cancer treatment

This makes BH4 an important candidate for future cancerimmunotherapy, as activated T cells know and fight cancer cells. Initial experiments on mice have already been successful. The other drug that Cronin and his colleagues have discovered do exactly the opposite: it regulates BH4 and causes the immune system to shut down.

By reducing BH4, you can control overactive T cells that attack healthy cells in the body in autoimmune diseases, says Cronin. In the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis, in multiple sclerosis, in allergies and asthma, the researchers were already successful in the mouse model. The new drug closed not only BH4 and thus the T cells, but calmed the entire immune system. Both therapeutic methods, those against autoimmune diseases and those against cancer will be tested clinically in the next few years.

Also conceivable as an antidepressant

If the drugs succeed in the patient, they can enter the market in a few years. Meanwhile, Cronin wants to continue his research in another direction: Because BH4 affects serotonin 'happiness hormone' and hence the mood of the mood, the cell biologist wants to investigate the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system in more detail.

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

Marlene Nowotny, Ö1-Wissenschaft

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