The Battle Between Cancer And The Immune System—Who Switches The off Signals Off?

Source: University of York

Summary: Researchers have discovered a new significant information about how to boost the immune system’s fight against cancer.

The human immune system has an amazing potential to clear pre-cancerous or cancer cells. But cancerous cells have the ability to emit ‘off’ signals to the cells of immune system and fool them into apathy. These ‘off’ signals are the immune checkpoints and in the recent years the way cancer is treated have been transformed by developing drugs which stop the off signals and reactivate the immune system. The immune checkpoints are not just found in cancer cells, they naturally exist in the body to prevent immune cells from unnecessary immune responses as in autoimmunity (our immune system attacks our own cells). Researchers from the University of York, the Hull York Medical School and Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London centered their study on PDL1, an ‘immune checkpoint’ protein. The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

 Immune system fights against cancer

Research centered on PDL1, an ‘immune checkpoint’ protein and prominent target of cancer immunotherapies. Credit: University of York

PD-L1 (Programmed Death Ligand-1) is an extremely important regulator of T cell function which contributes to peripheral immune tolerance. The researchers studied about, how the immune checkpoint PD-L1 protein is controlled in normal non-cancerous cells. After understanding the normal biology of PD-L1, researchers have remarkably discovered that miR-155, a very small biomolecule belongs to the family of genes called microRNAs, regulates and keeps a check on PD-L1 levels. It is already known that miR-155 is a key regulator of immunity and now the discovery of its connection to the immune checkpoint function will help the researchers to come up with more effective anti-cancer immunotherapies.

Dr. Tyson V. Sharp said, “Immuno-oncology, the study of anti-cancer immunity, is a highly active research space in cancer medicine”, “This exciting finding opens up new avenues of investigation that we believe can help us develop novel and more effective treatments for cancer, including cancers of unmet needs, such as lung and pancreatic cancer. More work is needed to reveal the full potential of this new discovery.”

More Information: Daniel Yee et al. “MicroRNA-155 induction via TNF-α and IFN-γ suppresses expression of programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) in human primary cells”, Journal of Biological Chemistry (2017). DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M117.809053

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