Molecule that could ‘turn on’ allergy discovered

Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, led by Dr Yong-Jun Liuat, focused on dendritic cells, immune cells that initiate the primary immune response. Dendritic cells come into contact with other immune cells known as T cells, causing them to develop into different subsets of T cells, including helper 1 (Th1) and helper 2 (Th2) cells. These T-cell subsets are involved in protective immune responses, but the Th2 cells can also drive an allergic response. Until now, it was not known how dendritic cells induced T cells to become Th2 cells.

The investigators used dendritic cells isolated from the blood of healthy donors and found that binding a molecule called thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) to these cells activates a distinct set of signaling pathways within the cells. As a result, the dendritic cells produce messenger molecules that act on the T cells, causing them to develop into Th2 cells.

The study identifies TSLP as a switch that causes the development of the allergic response in people and suggests that this molecule may be a potential therapeutic target to treat and prevent allergic diseases such as asthma, eczema and food allergy.

K Arima et al. Distinct signal codes generate dendritic cell functional plasticity. Science Signaling, 2010; DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2000567

Courtesy Science Daily

First published in January 2010

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