Researchers Learn What Causes Inflammation

Researchers Learn What Causes Inflammation

This microscope image shows red blood cells and several infection-fighting white blood cells including a monocyte. Courtesy U.S. National Cancer Institute.

British researchers have discovered a “constant cloud” of potent inflammatory molecules that are responsible for the onset of inflammation. Findings from the study at the University of East Anglia (UEA) could lead to new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases.

About one percent of the world’S population is afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, which is characterized by painful swelling of the joints and organs.  Women are three times more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men.

UEA researchers studied a type of white blood cell called monocytes. Monocytes play a key role in the human immune system and help our bodies fight infection. But they can also invade tissue, triggering the early stages of inflammation.

The researchers discovered that monocytes were surrounded by a constant cloud of inflammatory molecules called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Further study showed that the ATP molecules were being propelled through the cell wall by lysosomes. Lysosomes are sub-cellular compartments within blood cells which had previously been thought 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 Dr. Samuel Fountain of UEA’s School of  Biological Sciences. His study is being published in The Journal of Cell Science.

“We found that lysosomes are actually highly dynamic and play a key role in the way inflammatory cells function,” said Fountain. “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.”

Fountain says further research is needed to investigate how to control the release of ATP in white blood cells, and to understand how inflammation may be affected in patients with inherited inflammatory diseases.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor