APR 19, 2018 1:19 PM PDT

New Treatment for Psoriasis and Other Autoimmune Diseases

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

The same compound that helps immune cells detect bacteria during an invasion could help scientists design a new drug to treat psoriasis, an autoimmune disease. From the Washington University School of Medicine, researchers use a modified form of a compound called itaconate in mice models of psoriasis.

Characteristic patches of plaque psoriasis. Credit: Eisfelder

"We are taking advantage of the body's own anti-inflammatory power and showing that it can help in real situations when your own immune system is hurting you," explained senior author Maxim Artyomov, PhD.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by accelerated growth of skin cells that the body can’t shed. Instead, the cells build up on the skin, causing the characteristic patches, often on the knees, elbows, lower back, or scalp.

Inflammation is a double-edged sword. Inflammation (redness, swelling) is necessary for recruiting immune cells to the scene of an infection or injury to ward off pathogens and heal wounds, but the hero turns villanous when the inflammation is excessive or unwarranted.

Itaconate suppresses inflammation, which is the foundational issue behind autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and others. While the present study looked at the potential of itaconate to treat psoriasis, the compound may also be capable of treating other diseases too.

The main focus of the present study was identifying how and why itaconate suppresses inflammation. Researchers started by treating isolated inflammatory cells from mice and humans with a modified form of itaconate, dimethyl itaconate. They saw that the compound reduces levels of a key protein in the IL-17 inflammatory pathway, lkappaBzeta.

This inflammatory pathway is significant in the fight against bacteria and other pathogens, but it’s also partially responsible for causing autoimmune diseases. Genetic studies linked variations in the gene that codes for lkappaBzeta to an increased risk for developing psoriasis. Would reducing levels of lkappaBzeta treat psoriasis?

In the mice, researchers induced psoriasis-like symptoms while giving them doses of either placebo or dimethyl itaconate once a day for one week. Dimethyl itaconate successfully thwarted psoriasis as opposed to the placebo. Follow-up studies already in progress include testing itaconate compounds and multiple sclerosis in mice.

“Everyone thought that if it is produced by inflammatory cells it should fight infection, but no - it's anti-inflammatory,” Artyomov said. “Now we know that itaconate compounds can help with autoimmune diseases, specifically in psoriasis and potentially in multiple sclerosis. This small molecule is turning out to be really powerful."

The present study was published in the journal Nature.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, Washington University School of Medicine

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 11, 2019
Health & Medicine
SEP 11, 2019
Diagnosis and Treatment of Neurosarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is a multisystem inflammatory disease characterized by the formation of non-caseating granulomas in the affected organs. The majority of p...
OCT 14, 2019
Immunology
OCT 14, 2019
This is How Your Immune System Responds to Ebola Vaccination
Vaccines to prevent Ebola are still in their infancy, with experimental-only versions being used only in the most dire of instances. In a new study, scient...
NOV 10, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 10, 2019
Promising Results for New Vaccine Against Dengue Fever
Dengue fever is an illness transmitted by mosquito bites. Affecting around 390 million people per year, if left untreated, its mortality rate is 20%. Altho...
NOV 11, 2019
Neuroscience
NOV 11, 2019
Suicidal Mitochondria Responsible for ALS
Scientists at Northwestern University have dicovered a new mechanism in the brain that may be responsable for the early stages of neurodegeneration seen in...
DEC 20, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 20, 2019
A Natural Approach to Pain Management
In many instances, pain can be a rather useful tool. It informs individuals that something is amiss with their body and they should seek treatment. However...
JAN 16, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 16, 2020
Babies in Africa Receive World's First Malaria Vaccine
Would you accept a vaccine that was only 40% effective? For those at risk of malaria, the answer is likely a resounding, "yes!" According to the...
Loading Comments...