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Allergic asthma: UFZ researchers identify a key molecule


Allergies are becoming more commonplace, particularly in industrialised coun-tries. In addition to hay fever, allergic asthma is currently considered to be one of the most widespread allergies. UFZ researchers and their colleagues from the University of Leipzig have recently been successful in finding a protein that plays a critical role in the development of allergic airway inflammation. The discovery could pave the way for new therapies, as it also influences the pro-gression of the allergy.

Worldwide, there are more than 300 million asthma patients. In Germany alone, 10 - 15 percent of children suffer from allergic asthma that is often impaired by environmental pollutants. With the medications available today, symptoms can be effectively relieved, but without tackling the root cause. The precise reasons as to why certain people suffer from allergic asthma are still not fully clear.

It is still not fully clear as to why so many people today suffer from allergic asthma. Researchers from the UFZ and the University of Leipzig have now been successful in discovering a molecule that plays a significant role in the development of allergic asthma.

Photo: Alexander Raths, fotolia

Tobias Polte and his team from the Department of Environmental Immunology at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) collaborated with Jan Simon and his colleagues from the Clinic for Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology at the University of Leipzig and have recently been successful in discovering a molecule that plays a significant role in the development of allergic airway inflammation - as demonstrated in their recent publication in Nature Communications.

The protein syndecan-4 is found in the cell membrane of antigen presenting cells (APCs). These are immune cells that detect exogenous substances (antigens). They internalize them and migrate to the nearest lymph node, where they present them to other immune cells, namely T-cells.

In this way they initiate an immune reaction that leads to sensitization to a particular antigen, like for example to a pollen allergen. It is upon renewed contact with this pollen allergen that the typical symptoms of allergic asthma arise.

"In our study we were able to demonstrate that syndecan-4 plays a critical role in APC migration", says Polte. "When syndecan-4 is lacking, the APCs cannot find their way to the T-cells and consequently cannot activate them. As a result, the immune reaction cannot take place and the sensitization to a particular antigen ceases."

Through investigations at the University of Leipzig, the researchers were also able to show that syndecan-4 in the APCs also plays a central role in the inflammatory process of allergic asthma: the allergic asthma symptoms of mice improved when they were given antibodies against syndecan-4. "In principle, syndecan-4 would be a good starting point for new therapies", says Polte.

"Since it exhibits various other functions in cell metabolism, potential side effects are still difficult to assess." To relieve the symptoms of patients with allergic asthma, the treatment of allergic airway inflammation with glucocorticoids and the use of a bronchodilator asthma spray will continue to be paramount in the near future.

"There will only be an effective therapy that gets to the root cause when we have fully understood the relationships behind the development of allergic asthma", says Polte. "Nevertheless, in our study we were able to discover an important component with syndecan-4 that should help us on the road to identifying new therapies."

Polte T, Petzold S, Bertrand J, Schütze N, Hinz D, Simon JC, Lehmann I, Echtermeyer F, Pap T, Averbeck M. Critical role for syndecan-4 in dendritic cell migration during development of allergic airway inflammation Nature Communications 2015 Jul 13;6:7554.
The study was funded by the Helmholtz Community and the Leipzig Research Centre for Civilization Diseases (LIFE).

Dr. Tobias Polte
Head of the Young Investigators Group LIPAD in the Department of Environmental Immunology Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – (UFZ)
phone: +49 341 235 1545

Prof. Dr. Jan Simon
University Hospital Leipzig (Institution under Public Law) Clinic for Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology
phone: +49 341 97 18603

Contact Media
Susanne Hufe
UFZ press office
Tel. +49 - 341 - 235-1630

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
Permoserstraße 15
04318 Leipzig

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, biodiversity, the consequences of climate change and possible adaptation strategies, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, bio-energy, the effects of chemicals in the environment and the way they influence health, modelling and social-scientific issues. Its guiding principle: Our research contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and helps to provide long-term protection for these vital assets in the face of global change. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the federal government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major and urgent issues in society, science and industry through scientific excellence in six research areas: Energy, earth and environment, health, key technologies, structure of matter as well as aviation, aerospace and transportation. The Helmholtz Association is the largest scientific organisation in Germany, with 37,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of around €4 billion. Its work is carried out in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

UFZ Pressestelle | Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ),

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