By Emily Mullin, Forbes, Aug 28, 2015 –What do seemingly unrelated medical conditions like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and heart disease have in common? Answer: They’ve all been connected to excess inflammation in the body.
Because of its link to many age-related diseases, there’s growing interest among pharmaceutical and biotech companies to find new targets involved in inflammation that could lead to novel anti-inflammatory drugs. But while the symptoms of inflammation in disease are well known, scientists still do not fully understand the biological mechanisms behind it.
Now, researchers at Virginia Tech and their collaborators have identified key cellular functions that help regulate inflammation – a discovery that could have important implications for drug development. The findings, published in the journal Structure, explain how two proteins in particular, called Tollip and Tom1, work together to trigger inflammation.
Short-term or acute inflammation is a good thing: It’s the body’s natural response after an injury or infection, and it restores normal tissue structure and function. But too much inflammation can be a bad thing.
“At appropriate levels, the inflammatory response protects your body from foreign materials, but if it is not properly regulated it can lead to severe, chronic conditions,” said Daniel Capelluto, an associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech and corresponding author on the study, in a university statement. Capelluto is also a fellow at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute.
Inflammation occurs when the body is attacked by a virus or other microbe, causing specialized cells to release pro-inflammatory signals. Like a walkie-talkie picking up a radio signal, these pro-inflammatory signals get recognized by cell-surface proteins called interleukin-1 receptors, which are known as major regulators of inflammation. This triggers a cascade of pro-inflammatory molecules to be released, boosting the body’s response against invading pathogens.