Oxygen levels in the body can profoundly change the way immune cells behave, suggest researchers. Scientists say the findings pave the way for new therapies that
target the immune response to infection, with the potential to boost
existing antibiotic treatments.
The research in mice found that bacterial infections have vastly
different outcomes depending on levels of oxygen in the body when the
infection takes hold.
‘Bacterial infections have vastly different outcomes depending on levels of oxygen in the body when the infection takes hold, reveals a mouse study.’
If oxygen levels are low when infection strikes, the immune system
launches a massive overreaction. A fatal illness ensues even though the
bacteria have been cleared from the body.
Exposure to low oxygen before infection, however, seems to protect
the body from illness without compromising its ability to fight off
Researchers say the effects are caused by changes to the way the cells use energy, which reprograms their response.
If human cells are found to behave in the same way, tweaking their
oxygen sensing mechanisms could hold the key to tackling infections, the
The findings are particularly relevant for people with chronic lung
conditions, such as emphysema. They often have low levels of oxygen in
their body and are more vulnerable to infections.
The study was carried out by scientists in the Medical Research
Council Center for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh
and is published in the journal Science Immunology
Dr Sarah Walmsley, of the MRC Center for Inflammation Research at
the University of Edinburgh, said, "We are excited by our observation
that oxygen levels can regulate immune cell responses to infection.
Targeting these pathways could have the potential to improve outcomes
from infections where oxygen is limited."