A three-character code brings relief to patients with psoriasis and sheds light on complex immunoregulation processes, IL-4, an abbreviation for the endogenous signaling molecule Interleukin 4. The substance’s ability to inhibit inflammation is well known, but its mechanism of action was not fully understood. Scientists from the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the University of Tübingen have now shown in an animal model and in a study on patients exactly how IL-4 helps against psoriasis at the molecular level and the important role it plays in the human immune system.
Inflammation is a defense strategy of the body against invaders. Increased amounts of blood and fluid flow into the infected areas, and the release of signaling molecules summon immune cells to the site of infection to effectively neutralize the pathogens. However, poorly coordinated or misdirected immune reactions can trigger inflammation even in the absence of external agents, thus causing undue tissue damage. This is the case in psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The opensource study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In earlier studies the team were able to show that the signaling molecule IL-4 is a promising candidate for the treatment of psoriasis. However, before IL-4 could be used as a standardized medication the group had to understand the exact mechanism of action which they have now succeeded in doing.
The researchers followed a translational approach in their study, the laboratory findings were applied to patients without delay. They first used human and mouse cells to unravel the molecular effects of IL-4 on inflammation. The team discovered that IL-4 inhibits specific immune cells in a natural way in that it prevents the cells from synthesizing and releasing two signaling molecules, known as IL-23 and IL-17.
The team state that the discovery is very interesting as IL-23 activates special T-cells in the body, thus triggering inflammation adding that evidently IL-4 is able to effectively block this pathway. In subsequent experiments with mice, the group also found that administration of IL-4 specifically inhibits inflammation of the skin via this mechanism.
The researchers also validated the findings from the animal model in a patient study. Twenty-two patients with psoriasis received subcutaneous injections of IL-4 over a period of six weeks. The lab then examined samples from the patients’ affected skin areas before and after the treatment.
The results confirmed the previous experiments. Before treatment with IL-4, the study participants had high levels of IL-23 and IL-17 in their inflamed and itchy skin. After successful treatment, the two substances were barely detectable. The result was that inflammation and psoriatic skin changes had disappeared.
The team summise that the current study results show that IL-4 very selectively and successfully suppresses inflammation. This therapeutic approach could therefore be very interesting for the treatment of other autoimmune diseases. Moreover, the medical community now have a better understanding of how IL-4 functions as an important ‘checkpoint’ in the immune system and will be able to better appreciate and exploit its significance in the future.
Source: Technische Universität München
Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
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