New internal regulator of the immune system discovered in an SRUK-funded study

Date: Fri 31st May 2019

SRUK are thrilled to see the results of an investigation, undertaken by an international team of researchers and clinicians, where there has been the identification of a new internal regulator which helps to control the body's immune response. Led by the University of Leeds and the University of Pennsylvania, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Lupus Research Alliance and SRUK, this represents an exciting avenue through which new drugs may be able to tackle auto-immune diseases.

In auto-immune diseases, the healthy tissues are attacked by a person's own immune system. Auto-immune diseases include a wide range of chronic conditions that can be difficult to manage and treat, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma. Studies such as these are therefore critical to the recognition of the therapeutic drug targets that may dramatically improve the quality of someone's life.

Cryo-electron microscopes were used to uncover the structure of the regulator, as depicted in the image of this article, which is the world's first visual of this structure. Cryo-electron microscopes are effectively used as imaging tools where the structure of a molecule can be observed at an electron level and at very low temperatures. The research teams found that this molecule is composed of two proteins, BRISC and SHMT2, that exist naturally in the human body. From there, the team discovered that this molecule is a regulator which acts to increase the immune response of cells.

It was also found that the molecule can be regulated by the active form of vitamin B6, a vitamin found in a wide range of foods such as bananas, dark chocolate, potatoes and beef. Despite the central role that vitamin B6 plays in the function of the BRISC-SHMT2 regulator, it is important to remember that further extensive research is required before any full conclusions can be made about the interaction between the two. It is therefore not recommended to make any dietary changes in regard to this BRISC-SHMT2 protein complex at the moment.

Although there is a need for further investigation, this newfound information is extremely promising, as described by Dr Elton Zeqiraj, one of the researchers behind the study: 'Our discovery has the potential to help us find a new drug to target this regulator, to suppress the immune system and stop the body destroying its own cells, even when there is no infection present... We're excited because this discovery could open the door to a new class of drugs." This excitement is shared by SRUK, with the Chief Executive, Sue Farrington stating: “Thousands of people in the UK are suffering from autoimmune diseases like scleroderma, which can cause serious skin problems that can greatly reduce quality of life. We are very proud to have helped fund this important scientific breakthrough, and we hope this can open up a new avenue for drug discovery so that we can create more effective treatments for autoimmune conditions." We will keep our community updated with any new findings that come to light. The paper 'Metabolic control of BRISC-SHMT2 assembly regulates immune signalling' has been published in the journal Nature.

If you are interested in helping SRUK to fund more work like this, then please visit our donations page here: https://www.sruk.co.uk/donate/. We rely on the generosity of our community to continue to support groundbreaking research in both scleroderma and Raynaud's.

If you would like information on how scleroderma is diagnosed, then please visit: https://www.sruk.co.uk/scleroderma/scleroderma-getting-diagnosed/

A new piece on self-management can be found here: https://www.sruk.co.uk/about-us/news/6-tips-self-management/