New molecular targets could help your body ‘switch off’ inflammation

16 Jul 2014

University of Queensland researchers have discovered how an important pair of molecules—found within the cells of our immune system—team up to help ‘switch off’ inflammation in the body.

This finding could pave the way for new anti-inflammatory drug targets to improve the way we treat cancer and other chronic diseases caused by inflammation.

The study, published in Nature Communications, involved researchers from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Monash University and the University of Melbourne.

Lead researcher IMB Deputy Director Professor Jenny Stow said understanding how our immune systems work was critical to discovering new ways to control the many switches that turn inflammation ‘on’ and ‘off’ in our bodies.

“Most people know what inflammation looks like on the surface – it’s usually red, painful and swollen – but what we’re working to discover is what it looks like under the surface, where all the action happens,” Dr Stow said.

“Inflammation is the body’s first line of defence against threats such as infection or injury.

“In healthy inflammation, the body reacts quickly to recruit immune cells to fight the threat and promote healing, and it is important that inflammation stops once the threat has been removed,” she said.

“However, when inflammation continues and is unable to turn itself ‘off', it becomes unhealthy and can be a trigger for many chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, obesity, dementia and inflammatory bowel disease.”

Dr Stow said the team had discovered a molecular mechanism that allows cells to control a critical ‘off’ signalling pathway in inflammation.

“Within this pathway, there are two types of chemical signals (known as cytokines) that determine the body’s immune response – pro-inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory cytokines,” she said.

“Pro-inflammatory cytokines promote inflammation, while anti-inflammatory cytokines limit inflammation and promote healing.

“This newly discovered mechanism is one that helps to switch ‘off’ pro-inflammatory cytokines and switch ‘on’ anti-inflammatory cytokines to effectively control inflammation,” Dr Stow said.

“Excitingly, one of the molecules discovered is already targeted by drugs being tested for use in cancer.”

Dr Stow said the findings could suggest new ways to use the drugs in cancer and potentially also in inflammatory disease.

“While this is a basic research discovery, its findings can provide immediate benefits to clinical trials, including a current trial targeting one of these molecules as an inhibitor for cancer,” she said.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing medical genomics, drug discovery and biotechnology.

IMB’s Centre for Inflammation and Disease Research brings together basic research with drug discovery and development in approaches aimed at understanding inflammation at cellular and molecular levels, and devising strategies for controlling inflammation to prevent or treat disease.

To make a tax-deductible donation to IMB’s inflammation research, visit or call +61 (07) 3346 2134.


Media contact: Gemma Ward, IMB Communications Manager, 07 3346 2134 or 0439 651 107