New mechanisms of regulation of our immune system

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A group of researchers from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona (IRB, affiliated to USI) and the European Institute of Oncology (IEO) in Milan have identified a molecular mechanism that maintains the regulation of the response of our immune system avoiding excessive responses that can damage the body. The results of the work were published today.

"We have identified a molecular network that balances the responses of our lymphocytes, the cells of the immune system," explains Silvia Monticelli , Group leader of the Molecular Immunology lab at the IRB and principle author of the work. "The activities of these cells are based on a delicate balance: on the one hand they must ensure the body’s defense, but on the other hand they must limit the risk of potential damage. An excessive immune response can in fact damage the tissues and this damage can be the cause of many chronic inflammatory diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. With our work we have identified a network of interlinked regulatory genes that can promote or suppress the pro-inflammatory and potentially pathogenic reaction of T lymphocytes".

In our immune system, T lymphocytes have the essential role of orchestrating defence responses against the invasion of external pathogens. However, they can also promote the development of chronic diseases when the responses are so strong that they damage healthy tissue. For this reason, there must be mechanisms to control their activation. "In general, research on all aspects of the regulation of immune responses is really essential to understand what happens in many types of diseases, including infectious diseases, as we are unfortunately seeing today with the Covid-19 pandemic. The hope is always that vigorous research in this direction will lead us to new therapies, even if research requires time and patience, and the results are almost always seen only years later," says Dr. Monticelli.

The study was conducted at the laboratory of Dr. Monticelli at the IRB in Bellinzona, in collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Gioacchino Natoli at the IEO in Milan, and is financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Ceresio Foundation.

The scientific publication is available on the website of Nature Immunology:  www.nature.com/articles/s41590-020-0622-8


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