Breakthrough research opens door to potential new therapies for inflammatory diseases

Scientists have made a major breakthrough in understanding the workings of the cellular machinery involved in a host of inflammatory diseases. Their discovery opens the door to potential new therapies if they are able to target specific cells and keep our natural inflammation response under control.

The scientists found that ‘macrophage’ cells, when activated, re-wire energy powerhouses called ‘mitochondria’ to amplify the response – sometimes to the point that a normal bodily reaction to infection or injury is way over the top.

This elevated response is implicated in a number of inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and septic shock.

Macrophages have two jobs in the body; they must react quickly to an infection by kicking the body’s inflammation response into action, and they must then depress that initial response and repair tissues that are damaged as a result.

However, the scientists found that the initial macrophage activity diverts mitochondria from their normal role of producing energy, to instead producing toxic compounds that amplify inflammation.

The scientists now hope that they can find ways of suppressing macrophages to an appropriate level, so as to reduce associated tissue damage when the body’s inflammation alert status has amped up too far. The scientists, from the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, report their findings today in the world's leading life sciences journal Cell.

Co-lead author, Dr Evanna Mills, said:

Mitochondria are well known as the key energy generators in our cells, but we found that during inflammation they switch from that role to instead making toxic products from oxygen using an enzyme called succinate dehydrogenase, which promotes inflammation.

Co-lead author Dr Beth Kelly added:

Preventing this process turns the macrophage into a more benign anti-inflammatory cell, so if we can find a way of mediating the macrophage response, we might be able to preferentially calm down the inflammation.

The work is a joint collaboration between the Inflammation Research Group at Trinity, which is led by Professor of Biochemistry, Luke O'Neill, and the Medical Research Council Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge UK, which is led by Dr Mike Murphy.

It involves a major effort by nine institutions, including the Universities of Cambridge, Helsinki and Tampere, Harvard Medical School, the Medical Research Council UK Cancer Unit, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute Glasgow, and the Max Planck Institute, Germany.

Professor O’Neill said:

Our work contributes to a burgeoning area in immunology termed ‘immunometabolism'. We have great hope that this area will go on to yield a whole new understanding of the complexities of inflammation, which might ultimately benefit patients via new therapeutic options.


  1. George Colom George Colom United States says:

    As a inflammatory bowel patient I have not been able to use any of the normal drugs used for treating Crohn's disease, I have been able to survive only thru the removal of the damaged tissue, hence I have my days accounted for, for I have no more gut to take out, so I have just a few more years left to be in this world, but I have lived long enough and suffered long enough thru this hell, of Crohn's , So I live each day as fully as I can, but never far from a toilet, my favorite reading room.
    The use of opioid tipe drugs help me cope fairly well with the constant runs, and gives me a small relief from the joint pain, along with tramadol to help with the urgency to go, that and the slowing down of the gut, by using both allows me to live almost as a normal person, I don't know how many out there are like me for I have not met other folk with the disease in order to trade experiences , so I consider myself very lucky, for even at 61 I'm still as active as I can be, and don't have any plans to slow down any time soon, not yet anyway !
    I have been as of lately been able to experience the after effects of prednisone for my skin and teeth have been affected I have lost two teeth so far, and a third is well on the way out, and my skin is very frail, so I keep the sun exposure to as little as I can, by using long sleeves even in the summer, if I can help it, but whatever you guys and gals do out there, don't give up, don't loose hope, like in my case , sometimes doing nothing ( as far as drugs go) is better than the biological drugs out there, but since we are all different chemistry wise, not all drugs help all those affected by Crohn's.
    Be safe and live life !!!!!!

  2. mysty harris mysty harris United States says:

    Now that they have found this, find out what herb, vitamin, mineral is missing to cause this. then we can take that instead of some toxic medicine. I know an alkaline diet helps prevent inflammation. Or what are the toxins that we are eating, drinking, breathing, and wearing now that are affecting us. Our bodies are meant to be healthy on their own and with the proper intake of nutrients.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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