A team of researchers has now identified how immune cells trigger inflammation, a discovery that may pave the way for new treatments for many human diseases.
Immune cells play essential roles in the maintenance and repair of our bodies. When we injure ourselves, immune cells mount a rapid inflammatory response to protect us against infection and help heal the damaged tissue.
Lead researcher Dr. Helen Weavers from University of Bristol said that while this immune response is beneficial for human health, many human diseases, including atheroscelerosis, cancer and arthritis, are caused or aggravated by an overzealous immune response.
Weavers added that the study found that immune cells must first become “activated” by eating a dying neighbouring cell before they are able to respond to wounds or infection. In this way, immune cells build a molecular memory of this meal, which shapes their inflammatory behaviour.
The team’s research used the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to study how a particular immune cell (the macrophage) becomes activated in order to respond to injury or infection.
Professor Paul Martin said: “Our work has important implications for human health, given that the pathology of many human diseases is often caused by an inappropriate inflammatory response. Understanding how one signal can influence the ability of an immune cell to respond to a subsequent signal is a major step towards finding novel ways to clinically manipulate immune cells away from sites of the body where they are causing the most damage.”
The study is published in the journal Cell.