Scientists have discovered a new metabolic process in the body that can switch off inflammation. They found that ‘itaconate’ – a molecule derived from glucose – acts as a powerful off-switch for macrophages, which are the cells in the immune system that lie at the heart of many inflammatory diseases. “It is well known that macrophages cause inflammation, but we have just found that they can be coaxed to make a biochemical called itaconate,” said Luke O’Neill from Trinity College, Dublin in Ireland. “This functions as an important brake, or off-switch, on the macrophage, cooling the heat of inflammation in a process never before described,” O’Neill said.
The discovery, published in the journal Nature, is very much on the frontier of inflammation research and the researchers are now exploring its relevance to the onset and development of inflammatory and infectious diseases. They are also keen to explore whether the findings can be exploited in the effort to develop new anti-inflammatory medicines. “The macrophage takes the nutrient glucose, whose day job it is to provide energy, and surprisingly turns it into itaconate,” said Evanna Mills from Trinity College, Dublin.
“This then blocks production of inflammatory factors, and also protects mice from the lethal inflammation that can occur during infection,” Mills said.