Recent discovery offers new clarity for treatment of inflammatory disease


Clouds can put more than just a damper on your day — according to scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA), a “constant cloud” of powerful inflammatory molecules bunkered about the cells responsible for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can also make for a bleak forecast.

A report published today in the Journal of Cell Science dictates that this UEA cloud uncovering could bring about new treatments to utilize when combating chronic inflammatory diseases. The team of medical experts at UEA committed themselves to the study of monocytes, a particular type of white blood cell that plays a considerable role in warding off infection. Whereas monocytes can be one formidable component to immune system success, they can be dually detrimental to tissues, triggering the initial stages of common inflammatory disease when they invade, the study posits.

While examining these diametric monocytes, researchers discovered for the first time a continuous cloud of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) surrounding the white blood cells. Auxiliary investigation revealed that lysosomes were acting in a fashion that enabled the ATP molecules comprising these clouds to propel through the cell wall, an especially curious detection given that lysosomes are known to only break down cell waste.

"These unexpected findings shed light on the very early stages in the development of inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis," said lead author Samuel Fountain, PhD, of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "We found that lysosomes are actually highly dynamic and play a key role in the way inflammatory cells function. This is an exciting development that we hope will lead to the discovery of new targets for inflammatory drugs in around five years and potential new treatments beyond that."

Cardiovascular disease instigated by atherosclerosis (the thickening of the arteries) claims the lives of nearly 17 million people around the world each year. With so much at stake, Fountain insisted more studies should be conducted to further inspect the relationship between ATP and the lysosomes in monocytes as well as how to control the ATP release. By taking these exploratory steps, medical experts may be able to better understand how inflammation at the cellular level can be affected in patients with inherited diseases involving lysosomes. 

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