Thursday , October 6 2022

Immune system switch


Viennese researchers have found a mechanism that includes or excludes the immune system. This could open up new possibilities in cancer therapy and in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Judging by his own weapon against tumor, the idea is cancer immunotherapy. This approach was followed by a research team from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) together with international colleagues. They tested the substance that actually plays an important role in the human nervous system, the building block of the "hormone of happiness" dopamine and serotonin.

The two active substances regulate the immune system

The research shows that a building block of this hormone of happiness, BH4, activates the immune system. Because BH4 involves and excludes T cells, says cell biologist Shane Kronin of IMBA, lead author of the study. "If there is a lot of BH4, then the T cells are involved, they are ready to fight and become aggressive," says Kronin.

The cell biologist and his colleagues at IMBA, Harvard University and Mak Planck Heidelberg Institute managed to identify two active substances using this mechanism and thus regulate the immune system. "BH4 is already on the market for a different purpose," says Kronin. Another active ingredient was discovered and tested by scientists themselves. Now you can selectively select T cells on or off.

IMBA video on the results of the research

An important candidate for cancer therapy

This makes BH4 an important candidate for future carcinoma immunotherapy, because activated T cells make sense and fight against cancer cells. Initial experiments in mice were already successful. Another drug discovered by Cronin and his colleagues is exactly the opposite: it regulates BH4 and leads to an immune system stopping.

Reducing BH4 can regulate overactive T cells that attack healthy cells in the body in autoimmune diseases, says Kronin. In inflammatory ulcer colitis of the bowel disease, in multiple sclerosis, in allergies and asthma, scientists have already been successful in the mouse model. The new drug did not just exclude BH4 and thereby T cells, but it calmed down the entire immune system. These therapeutic approaches, those against autoimmune diseases and those against cancer, will be clinically tested in the next few years.

It can also be considered an antidepressant

If the drugs are successful in the patient, they could come to the market in a few years. In the meantime, Cronin wants to continue her research in another direction: because BH4 affects the serotonin of the "hormone of happiness" and hence the mood of people, the biologist of biologists wants to examine in more detail the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system.

"Maybe we can increase serotonin levels in the brain with the same or similar drugs," says Kronin. This could only bring about progress in the treatment of depression, but also in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease, as well as the hope of scientists.

Marlene Novotni, O1-Vissenschaft

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