The discovery that a gene called Mcl-1 is critical for keeping this vital immune cell population alive was made by researchers at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Associate Professor David Tarlinton, Dr Victor Peperzak and Dr Ingela Vikstrom from the institute's Immunology division led the research, which was published today in Nature Immunology.
Antibody-producing cells, also known as plasma cells, live in the bone marrow and make antibodies that provide a person with long-term protection from viruses and bacteria, Associate Professor Tarlinton said. "Plasma cells are produced after vaccination or infection and are responsible for the immune 'memory' that can persist in humans for 70 or 80 years. In this study, we found that plasma cells critically rely on Mcl-1 for their continued survival and, without it, they die within two days," he said.
Dr Peperzak said the team was surprised to find that plasma cells used this as a 'failsafe' mechanism in controlling their survival. "One of the interesting things we found is that because plasma cells rapidly destroy Mcl-1 proteins within the cell yet depend on it for their survival, they need continuous external signals to tell them to produce more Mcl-1 protein," Dr Peperzak said. "This keeps the plasma cells under tight control, with Mcl-1 acting like a timer that constantly counts down and, if not reset, instructs the cell to die."
Plasma cells are vital to the immune response, but can be dangerous if not properly controlled, Associate Professor Tarlinton said. "As with any immune cell, plasma cells are really quite dangerous in many respects and need to be tightly controlled," he said. "When they are out of control they continue to make antibodies that can be very damaging if there are too many. This happens in conditions such as myeloma – a cancer of plasma cells – and various forms of autoimmunity, such as systemic lupus erythamatosus or rheumatoid arthritis, where there are excessive levels of antibodies."
Myeloma is a blood cancer that affects more than 1200 Australians each year, and is more common in people over 60. It is caused by the uncontrolled production of abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow and the build up of damaging antibodies in the blood. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are autoimmune diseases in which the antibodies produced by plasma cells attack and destroy the body's own tissues.
Associate Professor Tarlinton said that his hope was that the discovery could be used to develop new treatments for these conditions. "Myeloma in particular has a very poor prognosis, and is generally considered incurable," Associate Professor Tarlinton said. "Now that we know Mcl-1 is the one essential gene needed to keep plasma cells alive, we have begun 'working backwards' to identify all the critical molecules and signals needed to switch on Mcl-1 and keep the cells alive. Our hope is that we will identify some point in the internal cell signalling pathway, or a critical external molecule, that could be blocked to stop Mcl-1 being produced by the cell. This would be an important new platform for diseases that currently have no specific or effective treatment, such as myeloma, or offer new treatment options for people who don't respond well to existing treatments for diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis."
This research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, European Molecular Biology Organization and the Victorian Government.
Liz Williams | EurekAlert!
Research team creates new possibilities for medicine and materials sciences
22.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent
22.01.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.01.2018 | Life Sciences