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Malaghan researchers identify new role for key molecule in early-stage development of allergic response

19 January 2018

Researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research have identified the role a key molecule plays in the initial development of an allergic response, opening doors for research into future treatment options for asthma and allergy sufferers.             

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Malaghan Institute scientists pinpointed a new role of Thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), a molecule involved in the development of T helper 2 (Th2) immune cells during an allergy.

 This research helps explain the rapid development of Th2 cells during an immune response.

 Professor Franca Ronchese, head of the immune cell biology programme at the Malaghan Institute says that the discovery means that potential therapies blocking the interaction between TSLP and Th2 cells may help in the suppression of damaging inflammation and allergic disease.

 “For people with inflammatory conditions such as allergic asthma, a certain type of immune cells – known as Th2 cells – is responsible for making a number of factors or molecules that cause inflammation. This excess inflammation can cause tissue damage, for example the inflamed and irritated skin of atopic eczema patients, or the typical shortness of breath experienced by asthma sufferers.”

 How Th2 cells acquire the ability to make these factors and molecules that cause inflammation remains largely a mystery, according to Prof Ronchese.

 “What is not yet completely clear is how those Th2 cells that we find in the lung or the skin or the gut develop. When we look at the early stages of the immune response, Th2 cells look different, and don’t really produce any of these inflammatory molecules. Somehow, they change – but we don’t yet understand what drives these changes.”

 However, this research has now identified one such factor – the molecule TSLP – and its role in the development of Th2 cells that go on to cause an allergic response.

 “It started with an observation. We found that in some conditions where there is a lot of TSLP, inflammatory Th2 cells develop very quickly during the immune response. With further research, we found that indeed it was TSLP turning these cells on right from the start”.

 “TSLP accelerates the development of inflammatory cells in tissues that can cause disease, something that was not known previously,” says Prof Ronchese. “People thought that TSLP acts mainly at different stages of the immune response, and maybe only in the lung and the skin. We’re saying no, it has a broader role than that and really drive these cells to become inflammatory.”

While the research team has not yet explored potential treatment opportunities of preventing TSLP in developing Th2 cells, the work conducted by Prof Ronchese and her team does give supporting evidence of TSLP blockers in existing clinical trials. 

To view the paper, click here.