AUG 06, 2020 7:27 AM PDT

Resetting the Body's Danger Sensor

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

The human body has a sophisticated danger-sensing mechanism that alerts the immune system when something is not right. This molecular sensor is called the inflammasome — a complex structure consisting of multiple proteins that send out chemical flares that trigger the immune system and protect sensitive tissues. Inflammasomes protect us from the constant barrage of environmental threats and invading pathogens. However, in the case of chronic diseases, the inflammasome’s warning signals get stuck in an on position, a dysfunctional state with devastating effects on human health.

Inflammasomes are receptors that are part of the innate immune system and work by regulating the activation of an enzyme called caspase-1. Once activated, caspase-1 initiates a flood of proinflammatory cytokines to the site, calling phagocytic immune cells such as macrophages to the scene to gobble up microbes and cellular debris to allow for healing and tissue restoration to begin.

While most of the danger sensors in the body are sensitive to bacteria and viruses, some respond to physiological changes in human cells: the formation of crystals, protein aggregates, and signs of damaged or stressed cells, for example. A growing body of evidence is pointing to just how important the inflammasome is in the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis, and how therapeutic strategies to turn off these proinflammatory signals may help patients find relief. 

In Alzheimer’s disease, the formation of amyloid plaques in brain tissues can set off inflammasomes in the brain, creating a constant state of inflammation that can exacerbate neural tissue damage and accelerate the patient’s cognitive decline. This vicious cycle is also observed in cancerous tissues, where tumor cells trigger the inflammasome, only to create an inflammatory microenvironment that allows tumors to grow and thrive.

Clinical strategies to block the signals that the inflammasome emits are now a major drug development focus for biopharma. Companies such as IFM Therapeutics specialize in creating ways of targeting and modulating the innate immune system when it is overactive in disease states such as autoimmune disorders and cancer. Inflammasome therapies are currently in early-stage clinical trials, with many more in the pipeline to treat an array of chronic diseases.

 

 

Sources: Nature, Novartis, Molecular Cancer.




 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
OCT 02, 2020
Immunology
Stop the Clot: A New Antibody Treatment for Thrombosis
OCT 02, 2020
Stop the Clot: A New Antibody Treatment for Thrombosis
Blood clotting helps stem the bleeding from a wound, suppressing blood loss and stopping pathogenic microorganisms from ...
NOV 06, 2020
Immunology
The Coronavirus Is No Match Against Sybody 23
NOV 06, 2020
The Coronavirus Is No Match Against Sybody 23
The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, uses its spike protein to gain access to cells, by binding to the ACE2 recep ...
NOV 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Cat Parasite Gives Clues on New Drug Targets for Schizophrenia
NOV 20, 2020
Cat Parasite Gives Clues on New Drug Targets for Schizophrenia
Researchers from the UK and France have discussed a mechanism of action behind the infamous Toxoplasma gondii  ...
DEC 01, 2020
Immunology
Scar-Free Healing Starts With Mobilizing the Immune System
DEC 01, 2020
Scar-Free Healing Starts With Mobilizing the Immune System
Thanks to a new hydrogel biomaterial developed by researchers at Duke University, we are one step closer to the holy gra ...
DEC 10, 2020
Immunology
Drug Turns Back the Clock in Aged Brains
DEC 10, 2020
Drug Turns Back the Clock in Aged Brains
When faced with stressful stimuli — anything from oxygen or nutrient deprivation to viral infections — cells ...
DEC 20, 2020
Microbiology
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
DEC 20, 2020
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
Scientist Katalin Karikó studied mRNA vaccines for years. She spent years getting grant rejections, but has now helped c ...
Loading Comments...