Scientists identify key protein in immune response to allergies and worms

27 Apr

Researchers have found a new way that the body controls inflammation when it is

responding to parasitic worm infections or during allergy reactions like asthma


dendritic cell
The dendritic cell is part of the body’s first response to combating a worm infection or allergic response.
Image credit: The University of Manchester

The researchers – led by a team from The University of Manchester in the UK – report

their work in the journal Nature Communication.

They believe their findings will lead to new treatments for controlling inflammation

during worm infections and allergic reactions like asthma.

Senior author Andrew MacDonald – professor in the department of life sciences and also

of the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research – says:

“With billions of people affected by both allergies and worm infections around

the world it is vital that we develop better methods of treatment.”

He explains that he and his colleagues are working in this area because despite the

devastating global impact of worm infections and allergies, there are no effective

vaccines or refined treatments, and our understanding of the cell types and mediators

that control our inflammation and immune response to them is limited.

For their study, the researchers focused on dendritic cells – one of the first

responders to worms or allergens. Dendritic cells recognize the type of infection and

switch on the appropriate inflammation response by activating a particular subset of

helper T cells.

However, while we know this much, the underlying biology of the recognition and

response to worms and allergens is still somewhat of a mystery. For example, how do the

dendritic cells activate the helper T cells?

Mbd2 protein plays key role in dendritic cell response to worms and allergens

To explore the question of how dendritic cells activate the helper T cells, the

Manchester team studied dendritic cells in culture and in mice as they reacted to

parasitic worms and lung allergens such as house dust mites.

They found that a protein called Mbd2 plays a key role – when they removed it from the

dendritic cells they behaved very differently and could not activate the helper T cells.

The researchers also discovered how Mbd2 regulates dendritic cell genes. It

alters gene expression without changing underlying DNA sequences, a process known as

“epigenetic” control.

In their paper, they highlight how in recent years it has become clear that epigenetic

mechanisms play an important role in regulating many aspects of T cell generation and


Prof. MacDonald summarizes the results and implications of the study:

“For the first time we have identified that this protein is a key

controller of dendritic cells during inflammation against parasitic worms or allergens.

It’s an important step, as all inflammation is not identical, and scientists try to

understand which specific cells and chemicals are more important in the body’s response

to particular infections.”

He explains that in the past, drugs have tended to take a broad approach, tackling all

aspects of a disease rather than targeting any specific one. Studies like theirs, mean


“In the future it might be possible to create medicines that control the inflammation

caused specifically by an allergy or a parasitic worm, rather than by a virus such as a

common cold.”

Prof. MacDonald also notes that it is important to tackle the inflammation that these conditions

cause, because we know that they can develop into longer-term diseases such as


In February 2015, Medical News Today reported how researchers from Imperial

College London, UK, discovered 30 new genes tied to asthma

and allergies. Their study also focused on epigenetic influences as opposed to DNA