Chronic inflammation can contribute to a variety of devastating diseases, from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to diabetes and cancer. It flares up if old age, stress, or environmental toxins keep the body's immune system in overdrive.
Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a molecular "switch" that controls the immune machinery responsible for chronic inflammation in the body. The results of their testing on mice could lead to new ways to halt or even reverse many of these age-related conditions.
"My lab is very interested in understanding the reversibility of aging," said senior author Danica Chen, associate professor of metabolic biology, nutritional sciences and toxicology at UC Berkeley. "In the past, we showed that aged stem cells can be rejuvenated. Now, we are asking: to what extent can aging be reversed? And we are doing that by looking at physiological conditions, like inflammation and insulin resistance, that have been associated with aging-related degeneration and diseases."
In the study, published online in the journal Cell Metabolism this month, Chen and her team show that a bulky collection of immune proteins called the NLRP3 inflammasome—responsible for sensing potential threats to the body and launching an inflammation response—can be essentially switched off by removing a small bit of molecular matter in a process called deacetylation.