Scientists at the RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology (RCAI) have identified the mechanism governing differentiation of B cells into antibody-producing plasma cells in what is a major advance in the treatment of autoimmune diseases and allergies.
They found a role for the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway in B cell differentiation, a key step toward the development of B cell-targeted drugs for treatment of autoimmune diseases and allergies.
As the only cells in the body that produce antibodies, B cells play an essential role in the immune system's defense against bacteria and viruses.
For the finding, the research group focused on the signaling of the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK), intracellular signaling molecules known to play an important role in the cell cycle and survival of immune cells.
The researchers generated mice deficient in two different ERKs, ERK1 and ERK2, and studied the effect of this deficiency on the fate of B cells.
The result confirmed that ERKs are in fact essential to B cell differentiation: B cells in mice without these key molecules were unable to form plasma cells.
The study was published in Science Signaling Journal.