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A natural protein that may prove useful for designing therapies against autoimmune diseases has been identified by Weizmann Institute researchers. (In autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakenly turns its weapons against the body's healthy tissues.)
The scientists believe that this protein, called restrictin-P, acts as a "security officer" that restricts the activity of a particular type of immune cell, namely the plasma cells that produce antibodies. The researchers think it may be possible to exploit restrictin-P's vigilance to restrain plasma cells that manufacture abnormal antibodies causing autoimmune disease.
Using cancerous plasma cells as their model, Institute scientists have discovered that restrictin-P interferes with the signals emitted by the growth factor interleukin-6. Because interleukin-6 is essential for these cells' survival, interference with the growth factor's signals causes them to die.
This study, recently reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, was performed by Prof. Dov Zipori of the Molecular Cell Biology Department, together with Prof. Yigal Burstein of the Organic Chemistry Department and other colleagues.
Apart from autoimmune diseases, restrictin-P may be used to fight multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer. It may also be capable of counteracting the dangerous side effects of treatments based on interleukin-6, which hold promise for fighting highly metastatic cancers and other clinical conditions.
A patent application covering the use of restrictin-P as an antagonist to interleukin-6 has been filed by Yeda Research and Development Co.
Prof. Zipori's team included Naama Brosh, Dalia Sternberg, Judy Honigwachs-Sha'anani, Byeong-Chel Lee, Yaron Shav-Tal, Wen Jiang and Dr. Esther Tzehoval of the Weizmann Institute; Dr. Lester M. Shulman of the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and Dr. Friedemann Horn of the Institute for Biochemistry RWTH, Aachen, Germany.