Immune System Regulation May Help Control Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes

Novel pathway regulating immune cell movement may help eliminate debilitating effects of several serious diseases.

Novel pathway regulating immune cell movement may help eliminate debilitating effects of several serious diseases.

The discovery of a key molecule that controls the movement of immune cells may eventually lead to treatments that reverse the pathogenic changes that occur in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

In a study published in Nature Medicine, researchers found a novel pathway regulates movement of pathogenic immune cells from the blood into tissue during an inflammatory response. As people age and in conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, the immune system becomes less stringently regulated, which can cause an increased inflammatory response that permits inappropriate access of immune cells to vulnerable tissues.

"The fact that the new pathway is relevant to both diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, which are quite different diseases, implies a broad applicability to many chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,” Professor Ed Rainger said in a press release. “This is an area of research we are keen to follow, and will be working with doctors from other specialties to determine whether this is the case and whether new therapies might be more broadly applicable"

The researchers found that the beneficial effects of the novel pathway are lost during normal aging and in certain diseases. The study revealed that adding the key molecule to immune cells from patients with diabetes and arthritis may regain control of immune cell movement to reverse the pathogenic changes that occur during these conditions.

"Our immune system becomes progressively less effective over the years and this can become harmful leading to disease,” Rainger said. “Being able to understand the link between aging and pathology will help us to reduce the risk of ill health associated with increasing age. Our discovery of this new pathway is very exciting. Not only does it reveal new ways in which our bodies control inflammation, it also indicates that we may be able design new drugs to reverse the disease and age specific loss of this pathway."

The researchers next plan to use the findings of the study to investigate the viability of treatments and therapies that target the new pathway.

"It remains to be seen whether these findings will have any direct relevance to cardiovascular disease,” Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said in a press release. “However, coronary heart disease tends to be more common in people with chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, so if this research leads to better treatments for these conditions, it might be expected that this will lead to fewer heart attacks in these patients."