Researchers discover new pathway that may be vital for understanding allergic asthma

Researchers at the Centenary Institute have discovered a new pathway that may be vital for our understanding allergic asthma, the most common form of asthma and the prevalent form of childhood-onset asthma affecting 2 million Australians.

This new study looked specifically at the function of a new class of immune cells in the lungs, known as group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2 cells).

There has been a great deal of interest in the research community around ILC2 cells and the newly recognised role they play in atopic diseases such as asthma, eczema and hayfever. ILC2 cells produce a molecule called IL-13, which is responsible for driving the mucous production in the lungs that can block the airways in asthma. Very little, however, is known about how these ILC2 cells are regulated.

This new study by the Centenary Institute has found that ILC2 cells in the lungs are regulated by another molecule called IL-2. They show that IL-2 promotes the survival and proliferation of ILC2 cells and increases their ability to produce molecules in response to damage and infection, particularly IL-13.

Lead author Dr Ben Roediger, from the Centenary Institute’s Immune Imaging Program, said this is the first in vivo study to demonstrate this molecular pathway in the lungs. The idea that IL-2 could affect allergic lung inflammation was based on a novel finding made by collaborator Prof. Barbara Fazekas de St Groth, head of the Centenary Institute’s T Cell Biology Program.

“The better we understand the different pathways that regulate the immune system in the body, the closer we come to understanding how certain inflammatory diseases arise," Dr Roediger said.

"This study lends new light into how different immune cells may interact with one another in the lungs, which could have important implications for our understanding of asthma, particularly allergic asthma.”

The work was published in the highly prestigious Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the number 1 allergy journal in the world.

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