An association between a master molecule of the immune system to the pathology of asthma has been established in a recent study.
Researchers have revealed that gamma interferon's role in asthma has been fuzzy. High levels of this substance in children's blood seem to be protective against the development of the disease.
The key immune molecule has often been assumed to steer the immune system in a different direction from the cluster of allergic disorders to which asthma belongs.
Yet, studies have found that high gamma-interferon concentrations are frequently found in severe asthmatics' lungs.
"People thought gamma-interferon might have something to do with driving asthma's pathology, but there wasn't a whole lot of corroborating evidence," said Stephen Galli, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at Stanford medical school.
According to the researchers, gamma-interferon, a signaling molecule secreted by certain immune cells mobilizes the immune system to fight infectious pathogens or to attack healthy tissues, resulting in autoimmune diseases.
They used a mouse model of asthma to pin down gamma-interferon's role in that disease.
The researchers provided mast-cell-deficient mice with mast cells whose surface receptors for gamma interferon had been knocked out.
It was seen that giving fully functioning mast cells to such mice restored the protocol's power to trigger the asthma-associated symptoms and gene-activity level changes that normal mice develop under the regimen.
"This is potential important news, because it suggests that gamma-interferon might represent a therapeutic target," said Galli.
The new study reproduced not only the gross symptoms of asthma in the mice, but also the overall patterns of changes in the activity of genes in lung tissue that typify people with asthma.
The study has been published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.