Faculty scientists now have a better understanding of how bodies react to allergies and parasites. The team, led by Professor Andrew MacDonald, have discovered a new way that immune cells control inflammation during worm infections and in allergic responses to diseases like asthma. The finding is important because inflammation can cause long-term damage and so understanding how it is controlled will help mitigate its effects. Dendrite To do this, the team studied dendrites in both animal and lab models. Dendrites are specialised cells of the immune system that play a vital role in the initial response to both allergens and parasites. Their main function is to recognise infection and switch on channels to combat it – one of which is inflammation. How these channels were switched on by dendrites was previously unknown. What the team found was that a particular protein called Mbd2 plays a key role in allowing dendrites to produce an inflammatory response. When the proteins were removed, radically different cells were formed and these cells had a significantly impaired ability to switch on inflammation. It was also discovered that Mbd2 was an epigenetic regulator, meaning that it could modify the function of many different genes without altering their DNA structure. Professor MacDonald explains:

“For the first time we have identified that this protein is a key controller of dendritic cells during inflammation against parasitic worms or allergens. It’s an important step, as all inflammation is not identical, and scientists try to understand which specific cells and chemicals are more important in the body’s response to particular infections. In the past, medicines have had a broad approach, affecting all aspects of a condition rather than being targeted. In the future it might be possible to create medicines that control the inflammation caused specifically by an allergy or a parasitic worm, rather than by a virus such as a common cold.”

Professor MacDonald continues:

“With billions of people affected by both allergies and worm infections around the world it is vital that we develop better methods of treatment. It’s also important to tackle the inflammation caused by these conditions, as it has been shown to play a role in the development of longer term diseases such as asthma.”

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