Researchers at the University of Bonn and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich have decoded a new mechanism of how the immune system can specifically attack pigmented cells of the skin. It was previously believed that natural killer cells did not have an immunological memory for the body's own tissues. However, the scientists have now showed that these immune cells can indeed “remember” pigmented cells when they come into more frequent contact with a specific contact allergen. These results may provide new insights into the development of the disease vitiligo and may also offer new options for the treatment of malignant melanoma. These results have now been published in “Immunity”.
Pigmented cells of the skin are crucial as a protective shield against UV-radiation. An often-desired suntan can only form with the aid of the enzyme tyrosinase inside these pigmented cells. The more exposure to sunshine, the more pigments are formed by this enzyme.
The compound monobenzone can specifically block tyrosinase and thereby trigger a stress reaction. As a result, the immune system attacks the affected pigmented cells. A frequent consequence is vitiligo, which leads to milky-white unpigmented areas on the skin.
Scientific studies have shown that people with vitiligo are at lower risk of developing malignant melanoma. A possible method for treating this type of cancer could involve actively triggering vitiligo with the tyrosinase blocker monobenzone.
“The idea is to use a less severe disease as a weapon against malignant melanoma,” says Dr. Jasper van den Boorn from the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn, who previously researched this connection in his doctoral thesis at the University of Amsterdam and demonstrated the fundamental feasibility of this option.
Contact allergen must first be “activated”
“However, the initial mechanism by which the immune system identifies the monobenzone-exposed pigmented cells as dangerous, before attacking them, has been unclear so far," reports Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung, who recently moved from the University of Bonn to the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.
It is known that monobenzone has a contact-sensitizing effect on pigmented skin: In principle, this substance alone is inactive. Only when monobenzone docks onto the tyrosinase enzyme, a so-called hapten is generated in the pigmented cell. This is a newly formed “foreign structure” that can specifically activate the immune system. By applying low doses of monobenzone several times in succession on the rodents' skin the researchers explored this path in detail on mice.
The way in which the animals' immune defense reacted to this hapten amazed the researchers. “Normally the immune system mobilizes a mixture of various white blood cells to attack hapten-exposed tissues,” reports Dr. van den Boorn. “However, the multiple monobenzone exposures induced only natural killer cells to recognize and attack the pigmented cells." Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune system and kill abnormal cells - such as cancer cells or virus-infected cells. Previously, scientists believed that they did not have the capacity to remember and specifically attack the body's own tissues. Up to now, this phenomenon has only been attributed to T and B lymphocytes.
“However, our results clearly show that natural killer cells can also carry out a long-lasting and effective immune reaction against the body's own pigmented cells, including malignant melanoma cells,” says Prof. Dr. Gunther Hartmann, Director of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn. The researchers established this by studying mice that were not able to form any functional T and B lymphocytes. Nonetheless, white spots still developed in the animals' fur, and previously transferred malignant melanoma cells were destroyed, because the mice’s natural killer cells remembered and attacked the pigmented cells.
The NLRP3 inflammasome serves as a checkpoint
In order for this immune response to occur, an immune-checkpoint had to give the green light first: the NLRP3 inflammasome. “This is a protein complex that integrates multiple pieces of signaling information in macrophages, special phagocytes that reside in tissues. Once switched on, macrophages then decide whether immune cells including natural killer cells receive their marching orders,” explains Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung. If the researchers incapacitated this checkpoint, the monobenzone-induced tyrosinase hapten did not trigger the desired immune reaction anymore.
The results may open up new therapeutic avenues for the treatment of malignant melanoma, demonstrate a new type of immune recognition and could even shed new light onto the incipient events causing the development of vitiligo.
Publication: Jasper G. van den Boorn, Christopher Jakobs, Christian Hagen, Marcel Renn, Rosalie M. Luiten, Cornelis J.M. Melief, Thomas Tüting, Natalio Garbi, Gunther Hartmann & Veit Hornung: Inflammasome-dependent induction of adaptive NK cell memory, Immunity, DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2016.05.008
Media contact information:
Dr. Jasper van den Boorn
Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology
University of Bonn Hospital
Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung
Gene Center and Department of Biochemistry
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Johannes Seiler | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Routing gene therapy directly into the brain
07.12.2017 | Boston Children's Hospital
New Hope for Cancer Therapies: Targeted Monitoring may help Improve Tumor Treatment
01.12.2017 | Berliner Institut für Gesundheitsforschung / Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."
Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
05.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Life Sciences
08.12.2017 | Information Technology
08.12.2017 | Information Technology