At least three protective mechanisms defend the lungs against erroneous attacks by the body's own immune system. This was discovered by the Immuneregulation research group headed by Professor Dunja Bruder at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig, Germany.
Lungs under the microscope: The left image shows healthy lung tissue. If the immune system attacks lung tissue by mistake, immune cells, depicted in blue, accumulate and may constrict the bronchi. This can be seen in the right image.
To understand the role of T cells in the etiology of COPD, the researchers conducted experiments in mice, in which they were able to specifically evoke autoimmunity by introducing autoreactive T cells into the murine lungs. Against expectations, however, they found that the mere presence of cells that are viewed as "non-self" did not by itself provoke an attack by autoreactive T cells. Instead, it appears that, besides erroneously recognizing a tissue as "non-self," the autoreactive T cells require an additional signal to prompt their differentiation into cells capable of attacking "self" cells. To their surprise, the scientists found that the T cells became activated only temporarily once the scientists delivered an additional, second signal by triggering the innate immune response - a kind of "body alarm system" that switches on the entire immune defense. "It seems that a third signal is needed to completely turn on these cells. Once we find out what this third signal actually is, we will have taken an important step forward in our understanding of COPD. This would then allow us to intervene therapeutically and prevent the progress of the disease," emphasizes Dunja Bruder the relevance of their results. The researchers' investigations point to the fact that chronic infections may be responsible for producing the third signal. Infections lead to inflammation of the lungs, which then completely turns on the autoreactive T cells.
Dr. Birgit Manno | Helmholtz-Zentrum
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