Sydney, Feb 7 : Researchers have uncovered how an inflammation process automatically switches off in healthy cells, and are now investigating ways to stop it when it goes awry.
The discovery, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, could be the key to stopping damage caused by uncontrolled inflammation in a range of common diseases including liver disease, Alzheimer's and gout.
"Now that we understand how this pathway naturally turns off in health, we can investigate why it does not turn off in disease -- so it's very exciting," said Kate Schroder, Associate Professor at University of Queensland in Australia.
Her work focuses on inflammasomes, which are machine-like protein complexes at the heart of inflammation and disease.
"These complexes form when an infection, injury or other disturbance is detected by the immune system, and they send messages to immune cells to tell them to respond," Schroder said.
"The inflammasome initiates the inflammation process by activating a protein that functions like a pair of scissors, and cuts itself and other proteins," she added.
"What we've found is that after a period of time this protein cuts itself a second time to turn off the pathway, so if we can tweak this system we may be able to turn it off manually in disease," Schroder said.
Schroder's laboratory has begun studying the inflammasome in fatty liver disease, a rapidly growing health issue due to the increasing global incidence of obesity and diabetes.