A team of researchers led by Prof. Irun Cohen of the Immunology Department has revealed the molecular mechanism of a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own insulin-producing cells.
The vaccine, which arrests the progression of Type 1 diabetes in laboratory animals, was developed by Cohen and his colleagues several years ago. The scientists had discovered that a particular protein called HSP60, or even only a particular small fragment of it – the peptide p277 – is able to shut down the autommune response causing Type 1 diabetes. Yet although the vaccine is currently being tested in clinical trials in Europe and the United States, its precise mechanism had until recently remained unknown.
As described in a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists have now managed to identify the exact immune cells upon which p277 acts, as well as its mechanism of action. They have also shown that to activate this mechanism, p277 must be bound to the receptor TLR-2, which is found on the walls of regulatory immune cells.
“These findings are important: By identifying the molecular activity of p277 with such precision, we can copy nature's own system in regulating the immune response,” says Cohen.
Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Alexandra Zanin-Zhorov spearheaded the project; the other scientists participating in this study were the late Prof. Ofer Lider, Dr. Liora Cahalon, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Guy Tal and Raanan Margalit.
Prof. Irun Cohen’s research is supported by the Minna James Heineman Stiftung; and the Robert Koch Minerva Center for Research in Autoimmune Disease.