2,000-year-old herb regulates autoimmunity and inflammation
For roughly two thousand years, Chinese herbalists have treated Malaria using a root extract, commonly known as Chang Shan, from a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepal. More recent studies suggest that halofuginone, a compound derived from this extract's bioactive ingredient, could be used to treat many autoimmune disorders as well. Now, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine have discovered the molecular secrets behind this herbal extract's power.
It turns out that halofuginone (HF) triggers a stress-response pathway that blocks the development of a harmful class of immune cells, called Th17 cells, which have been implicated in many autoimmune disorders.
"HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether," said Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the new study. "This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders."
"This study is an exciting example of how solving the molecular mechanism of traditional herbal medicine can lead both to new insights into physiological regulation and to novel approaches to the treatment of disease," said Tracy Keller, an instructor in Whitman's lab and the first author on the paper.
This study, which involved an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere, will be published online February 12 in Nature Chemical Biology.
Prior research had shown that HF reduced scarring in tissue, scleroderma (a tightening of the skin), multiple sclerosis, scar formation and even cancer progression. "We thought HF must work on a signaling pathway that had many downstream effects," said Keller.
In 2009, Keller and colleagues reported that HF protects against harmful Th17 immune cells without affecting other beneficial immune cells. Recognized only since 2006, Th17 cells are "bad actors," implicated in many autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. The researchers found that minute doses of HF reduced multiple sclerosis in a mouse model. As such, it was one of a new arsenal of drugs that selectively inhibits autoimmune pathology without suppressing the immune system globally. Further analysis showed that HF was somehow turning on genes involved in a newly discovered pathway called the amino acid response pathway, or AAR.
Scientists have only recently appreciated the role of the nutrient sensing-AAR pathway in immune regulation and metabolic signaling. There is also evidence that it extends lifespan and delays age-related inflammatory diseases in animal studies on caloric restriction. A conservationist of sorts, AAR lets cells know when they need to preserve resources. For example, when a cell senses a limited supply of amino acids for building proteins, AAR will block signals that promote inflammation because inflamed tissues require lots of protein.
"Think about how during a power outage we conserve what little juice we have left on our devices, foregoing chats in favor of emergency calls," said Whitman. "Cells use similar logic."
For the current study, the researchers investigated how HF activates the AAR pathway, looking at the most basic process that cells use to translate a gene's DNA code into the amino acid chain that makes up a protein.
The researchers were able to home in on a single amino acid, called proline, and discovered that HF targeted and inhibited a particular enzyme (tRNA synthetase EPRS) responsible for incorporating proline into proteins that normally contain it. When this occurred, the AAR response kicked in and produced the therapeutic effects of HF-treatment.
Providing supplemental proline reversed the effects of HF on Th17 cell differentiation, while adding back other amino acids did not, establishing the specificity of HF for proline incorporation. Added proline also reversed other therapeutic effects of HF, inhibiting its effectiveness against the malaria parasite as well as certain cellular processes linked to tissue scarring. Again, supplementation with other amino acids had no such effect. Such mounting evidence clearly demonstrated that HF acts specifically to restrict proline.
The researchers think that HF treatment mimics cellular proline deprivation, which activates the AAR response and subsequently impacts immune regulation. Researchers do not yet fully understand the role that amino acid limitation plays in disease response or why restricting proline inhibits Th17 cell production.
Nevertheless, "AAR pathway is clearly an interesting drug target, and halofuginone, in addition to its potential therapeutic uses, is a powerful tool for studying the AAR pathway," said Whitman.
This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and a Harvard Technology Accelerator Award.
Nature Chemical Biology, online publication, February 12
"Halofuginone and other febrifugine derivatives inhibit prolyl-tRNA synthetase" by Keller et al
Harvard Medical School <http://hms.harvard.edu> has more than 7,500 full-time faculty working in 11 academic departments located at the School's Boston campus or in one of 47 hospital-based clinical departments at 17 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes. Those affiliates include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Children's Hospital Boston, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Forsyth Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Hebrew SeniorLife, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children's Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and VA Boston Healthcare System.
David Cameron | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > AAR > Chemical Biology > Chinese herbs > Dental Analytics > Dental Medicine > Eye Tracking > Nature Chemical Biology > amino acid > autoimmune disease > autoimmune disorders > cellular process > chemical engineering > immune cell > inflammatory disease > multiple sclerosis > synthetic biology
27.03.2015 | Oak Ridge National Laboratory
How did the chicken cross the sea?
27.03.2015 | Michigan State University
In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...
The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.
As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...
When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.
The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe.
Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...
Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.
From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...
25.03.2015 | Event News
19.03.2015 | Event News
17.03.2015 | Event News
27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences
27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation