Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Important breakthrough in research on the molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of asthma

Scientists in Mainz publish new discoveries in asthma research

Scientists at the University Medical Center Mainz have taken a further step towards improving our understanding of how asthma develops. These new findings show that the gene-regulating molecule "IRF4" plays a key role in the development of T helper 9 cells , which can play a major part in the development of this chronic, inflammatory illness of the respiratory tract.

The findings were proven for the first time in research carried out by the work group led by Dr. Tobias Bopp and Professor Dr. Edgar Schmitt from the Institute for Immunology, which was recently published in the internationally renowned journal "Immunity".

Over the past 100 years, asthma has developed from a relatively rare lung disease into an epidemic. Around 300 million people suffer from asthma worldwide. Between five and ten percent of the German population suffer from asthma. And twice as many men suffer from the illness than women. We know that allergic immune reactions can contribute significantly to the development of asthma. Hyperreactive Th cells, which form part of the body's own immune system, play a major role in the manifestation of this illness.

Different T cells carry out various tasks in the body's immune defense: Cells with a helper function known as T helper (Th) cells produce various cytokines that enable the different immune defense cells to communicate with each other, which in turn helps them launch a coordinated attack on pathogens or even tumour cells. However, if these cells react disproportionately to harmless substances, they can also cause disease. T helper cells can be divided into several sub-groups, including Th9 cells. These Th9 cells were characterized in two phases: They were described for the first time in 1994 as interleukin (IL)-9-producing T helper cells by Professor Schmitt, and finally became known as Th9 cells in 2008.

"Until now, only evidence was provided for the existence of Th9 cells and the crucial importance of IL-9 in the pathogenesis of asthma. However, as other cells beside T cells can produce IL-9 the major source of this cytokine was far from being definitive. To enable targeted therapeutic intervention, however, it was necessary to uncover the basic molecular mechanism underlying the development and function of IL-9-producing Th9 cells. Our analyses finally showed that IRF4 – a molecule that plays a key role in the regulation of genes – is essential for the development and function of Th9 cells," explain Dr. Tobias Bopp and Professor Dr. Edgar Schmitt from the Institute for Immunology.

The functional studies were carried out mainly on mice. The starting point was the observation that T cells in mice missing an intact IRF4 molecule do not develop into Th9 cells and are therefore unable to produce significant quantities of IL-9. As IL-9 is responsible for a variety of different asthma symptoms, the scientists led by Dr. Tobias Bopp and Professor Dr. Edgar Schmitt investigated to what extent IRF4 and consequently Th9 cells contribute to development and manifestation of asthma. These experiments showed that a failure in Th9 development prevents IRF4-deficient mice from asthma. Transfer of Th9 cells led to reappearance of asthma symptoms in such mice confirming the importance of this Th-subpopulation for the induction of asthma.

Professor Dr. Hansjörg Schild, Director of the Institute for Immunology, stresses how important basic research is for the development of new therapeutic strategies: "Asthma has been on the increase for decades in industrial countries. The discovery of Dr. Tobias Bopp and Professor Dr. Edgar Schmitt could provide the first step to improve existing therapeutic treatments but we still have a long and arduous journey ahead." The next step of the research process is to screen substances, among them naturally occurring molecules/agents, that suppress the production of IL-9 to develop innovative approaches for the treatment of asthma.

This view is also shared by Scientific Director of the University Medical Center Mainz, Professor Dr. Dr. Reinhard Urban: "Immunological illnesses are playing an ever greater role in our society. It is therefore only logical that the researchers in the University Medical Center should focus on the basic cellular mechanisms and use their results to help improve treatment for patients."

Original publication:
Valérie Staudt et al., “Interferon-Regulatory Factor 4 Is Essential for the Developmental Program of T Helper 9 Cells”, Immunity (2010), doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2010.07.014
Publication in Immunity: online on July 29, 2010, in print on August 29, 2010
Dr. Tobias Bopp
Institute for Immunology
Phone +49 (0)6131 17-6175, Fax +49 (0)6131 17-6260
E-Mail:, Homepage:
Press contact
Tanja Rolletter, Press officer,
Phone +49 (0) 6131 17-7424, Fax +49 (0)6131 17-3496, E-Mail:

Caroline Bahnemann | idw
Further information:

Further reports about: IL-9 IRF4 Immunology T cells T helper cells Th9 cellular mechanism immune defense immunity

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Inflammation Triggers Unsustainable Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infection
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>