Anti-parasite protein could put the brakes on emphysema

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A protein the immune system generates to fight intestinal worms could slow emphysema’s progression, a new study finds.

Past studies have shown that harmful inflammation associated with activated immune cells contributes to emphysema, a chronic lung disease that causes shortness of breath. Currently, there is no cure, but there are treatments to manage the disease.

The study suggests that the protein RELM-alpha, which the body produces in response to an infection with parasitic worms, can suppress the harmful inflammation linked to emphysema and control its progression.

“When the parasite first enters the lungs, it induces production of the inflammatory cytokine IL-17, which can cause emphysema,” says lead author William Gause, director of the Center for Immunity and Inflammation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

“But subsequently the parasite also triggers this specific component of the immune response that can reduce the IL-17 and thereby limit the severity of the emphysema,”¬†Gause says.

The study, which appears in Cell Reports, is one of many worldwide looking at immune responses the parasites trigger in order to find new treatments to control inflammation and promote tissue repair, Gause says.

Future studies will examine whether direct administration of the molecule can reduce the severity of emphysema and also how harmful inflammation driven by IL-17 results in the immune-mediated tissue damage that contributes to this lung disorder.

“Harmful inflammation is such a serious problem in disease,” Gause says. “This protein produced by immune cells during parasitic worm infections reveals the complexity of the immune response and indicates how we can unleash beneficial components of our own immune system to control the harmful inflammation that contributes to many chronic diseases.”

Source: Rutgers University