Immune system switch


Vienna researchers have found a mechanism that turns on or off the immune system. This could open new pathways in the treatment of cancer and in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.

Assessing your own body armor from tumors is the idea of ​​cancer immunotherapy. This approach was followed by a research group from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) together with international colleagues. They studied a substance that actually plays an important role in the human nervous system, the building block of dopamine and serotonin "happy hormones".

Two active substances regulate the immune system

The study suggests that one building block of this happiness hormone, BH4, activates the immune system. Because BH4 turns on and off cells T, says cell biologist Shane Cronin of IMBA, lead author of the study. "If there is a lot of BH4, then T cells turn on, they are ready to fight and become aggressive," says Cronin.

A cellular biologist and his colleagues at IMBA, Harvard University and the Max Planck Heidelberg Institute could identify two active substances that use this mechanism and thereby regulate the immune system. "BH4 is already on a market with a different purpose," says Cronin. The other active ingredient was discovered and tested by the scientists themselves. You can now selectively turn the T cells on or off.

IMBA video on the results of the research

An important candidate for cancer treatment

Because of this, BH4 is an important candidate for future cancer immunotherapy, as active cells experience and fight against cancer cells. The initial mouse experiments were already successful. The second drug discovered by Cronin and his colleagues, on the contrary: regulates BH4 and causes the immune system to stop.

By reducing BH4, you can regulate excessive T cells that attack healthy cells in your body in autoimmune diseases, says Cronin. In inflammatory bowel ulcer colitis, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and asthma, scientists have already been successful in the mice model. The new drug did not exclude BH4 and hence T cells, but it calmed down the entire immune system. Both therapeutic approaches, those against autoimmune diseases and those against cancer, will be clinically tested over the next few years.

Also for antidepressant

If the drugs are successful in the patient, they could come into the market in a few years. During this time, Cronin wants to continue his research in a different direction: because BH4 affects serotonin's "hormone of happiness" and thus the mood of the people, the cell biologist wants to further explore the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system.

"Maybe we can increase serotonin levels in the brain with the same or similar medicine," says Cronin. This would not only make progress in the treatment of depression, but also in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, so the scientist's hope.

Marlene Nowotny, Ö1-Wissenschaft

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