Scientists at the University of York, England discovered that a small molecule, miR-132 works as a handbrake on our immune system. This study was published in the EMBO reports journal on 4 March 2019.
A molecule known as miR-132 is part of our genome. This molecule is a short non-coding RNA molecule. The miR-132 belongs to a family of genes called microRNAs.
Scientists conducted a pre-clinical model for the study. This study was done to help understand patients suffering from visceral leishmaniasis and also to help discover new treatments for leishmaniasis.
Leishmaniasis is a disease which is spread by the bite of sandflies. This infection is caused by parasites. Visceral leishmaniasis is the most severe form of leishmaniasis and is the second largest killer in the world.
Our immune system works as a defense mechanism, protecting our body from viruses that cause infection and disease. Sometimes the immune system over does protection and causes damage to its own tissues.
When the immune system fights from a long-lived infection, the spleen becomes bigger as the organ itself becomes the attacker and causes harm to the body. This causes the immune system to not be able to perform its function properly and leads to serious complications and also death.
During the study, scientists worked on a visceral leishmaniasis clinical model which lacked miR-132. The results showed that miR-132 limits spleen from getting bigger and also the immune system’s response. This means that the body becomes more vulnerable to infections.
The study found that a tiny molecule advances immune responses to protect from infection. The results also indicated that miR-132 helps control how other molecules work.
Dimitris Lagos, one of the authors of the study said, “When you are responding to an infection your immune system protects you and keeps you alive, but it can also be the thing that makes you ill and getting that balance wrong is what usually leads to a chronic infection.”
Lagos also said that “miR-132 acts as a pacer, making sure your immune system doesn’t go too fast and get exhausted. It seems like in this case driving with a handbrake on is the way our body protects us from infection.”
The scientists say that the next step now will be to develop and make medicines that will help and advance the beneficial effects of miR-132 in the immune system.
With the results found, scientists suggest that new possible treatments can be made for leishmaniasis and autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases. Scientists also say that with these results, it can now become easy to help limit damage in life-threatening infections.