A group of researchers from Centre for Molecular Pathology at the University of Adelaide have identified the key protein involved in driving the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases through the body’s ‘super-inflammatory’ immune response.
Until recently, “everybody had been focusing on the CCR6 receptor as the one to target to control this inflammatory response,” said lead researcher professor Shaun McColl.
“We’ve now shown that the receptor to target is actually CCR2, blocking CCR6 actually makes the disease worse.”
The chemokine receptor (CCR2) is known for its role in moving the T cells around the body when they are in super-inflammatory mode to fight infection.
In the case of autoimmune diseases like MS the body’s immune system actually attacks it’s own tissues.
“If we can find an antagonist to block the CCR2 receptor specifically on these T-cells, we should be able to control the progression of MS,” he said.
The researchers tested the immune response that occurs in MS on three groups of genetically modified mice.
“Basically, they were engineered not to express those receptors.“We used one strain of mice that didn’t exhibit CCR6, and another that didn’t exhibit CCR2, and a control or ‘normal group’ to use as a comparison.
“When we tested the mouse without CCR2 we got complete inhibition of the disease,” said McColl.
In Australia, MS affects 23,000 people and is the most common disease of the central nervous system in young adults.
A potential side benefit of the team’s research is developing improved vaccines.
In the absence of an autoimmune disease, “we want to turn on the super-inflammatory response and enhance the migration of the immune cells to sites where they are needed,” said McColl.
“This research may help guide the development of vaccines that can better force that immune response,” he said.
The study received support from the National Health and Medical Council and was published in the journal Nature Communications this month.
Professor Shaun McColl
Director, Centre for Molecular Pathology
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Adelaide
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