By Georgia Parsonson
A recent development in scientific research may lead to new treatments for such diseases as Diabetes, Cancer, and even COVID-19.
A team of international researchers – featuring scientists from the University of Queensland (UQ) – have conceptualised and investigated a key molecular pathway called MyD88. In doing so, they discovered the connection between immune cell receptors and the body’s inflammation response.
UQ Professor Bostjan Kobe explained that a few years ago, he and his colleagues realised that there existed a lack of understanding regarding what triggered inflammation within the body.
“Our immune system triggers inflammation as a protective measure when pathogens or bacteria enter our bodies, but sometimes this defence goes awry and can worsen how our body copes with the disease,” he said.
“We knew that signals sent from the receptors on the surface of immune cells led to inflammation in the body but didn’t understand how this occurred at a molecular level.
“Now we’ve scrutinised and visualised an incredibly important protein called MyD88.
“This is a key signalling molecule in immunity pathways; its job is to pass a message from the immune cell receptors for the body to trigger an immune response.
“While immunity is clearly needed to fight against pathogens, sometimes the immune system can trigger falsely or hyperactivate an inflammatory response even once the pathogen is gone.”
By investigating and understanding this pathway and learning how to suppress its activation, researchers could develop more effective treatments for diseases that impact the lives of thousands of Australians every day.
This research could not have been accomplished without recent advancements in molecular visualisation and analysis technology.
Dr Thomas Ve, of Griffith University, explained, “Just a few years ago, ‘conventional’ techniques such as X-ray crystallography weren’t able to study these types of proteins.
“We’ve had to develop and utilise some cutting edge technology, in this case, microcrystal electron diffraction and X-ray free-electron lasers.
“This is one of the first times microcrystal electron diffraction has been used to determine a new protein structure in this way.
“And this was one of the first comparisons of these emerging structural biology techniques.
“In the end, both of these incredible technologies gave us the world’s first clear image of this critical inflammatory target.”
The funding for this research project was provided by several organisations, including the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Research Council, the Swedish Research Council, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the SciLifeLab Technology Development Project.
The research project itself was undertaken as a collaborative effort by the research groups of Professor Kate Stacey, Professor Bostjan Kobe, Dr Yann Gambin (UNSW), Dr Thomas Ve, Dr Hongyi Xu (Stockholm University) and Dr Connie Darmanin (La Trobe University).
The study has been published in Nature Communications.