Chronic inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis – which affects around 800,000 people in Germany, the majority of whom are women – have a severe impact on sufferers. They involve painful inflammation and can in the worst case even lead to the destruction of the joints.
A team of FAU researchers led by Prof. Dr. Aline Bozec and head of department Prof. Dr. Georg Schett from the Department of Medicine 3 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are investigating which mechanisms can cause inflammation – and have taken an unusual approach to their work.
An effective combination
Previous studies have shown that a particular type of worm infection activates two different defence cells, type 2 T helper cells (Th2) and eosinophils. Researchers have identified the same defence cells in the joint fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In their study Aline Bozec and Georg Schett investigated how the worm infection affects joint inflammation and discovered that the infection caused Th2 cells and eosinophils to collect in the joint – which suppressed inflammation. ‘What is fascinating about these findings is that a mechanism of the immune system whose fundamental role is to fight worm infections can resolve inflammation such as arthritis,’ Prof. Dr. Georg Schett explains.
The protective effect results from the interaction of the two types of defence cells. ‘Our most important discovery is that together Th2 cells and eosinophils stop inflammation,’ Aline Bozec says. The researchers’ findings could lead to a new approach to treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis that would allow the inflammatory reaction to be prevented in the long-term.
The study, which was recently published in Nature Communications (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NCOMMS11596), was conducted within the framework of Collaborative Research Centre 1181 by researchers from the Department of Medicine 3 and the Department of Infection Biology at FAU’s Institute of Microbiology. The interdisciplinary centre, established at FAU by the German Research Foundation in 2016, is the first of its kind in Germany that investigates the mechanisms behind the resolution of inflammation.