Apr 7, 2024

Immune Checkpoint Discovery Has Implications for Treating Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, life extension

Your immune system should ideally recognize and attack infectious invaders and cancerous cells. But the system requires safety mechanisms, or brakes, to keep it from damaging healthy cells. To do this, T cells—the immune system’s most powerful attackers—rely on immune “checkpoints” to turn immune activation down when they receive the right signal. While these interactions have been well studied, a research team supported in part by NIH has made an unexpected discovery into how a key immune checkpoint works, with potentially important implications for therapies designed to boost or dampen immune activity to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases.1

The checkpoint in question is a protein called programmed cell death-1 (PD-1). Here’s how it works: PD-1 is a receptor on the surface of T cells, where it latches onto certain proteins, known as PD-L1 and PD-L2, on the surface of other cells in the body. When this interaction occurs, a signal is sent to the T cells that stops them from attacking these other cells.

Cancer cells often take advantage of this braking system, producing copious amounts of PD-L1 on their surface, allowing them to hide from T cells. An effective class of immunotherapy drugs used to treat many cancers works by blocking the interaction between PD-1 and PD-L1, to effectively release the brakes on the immune system to allow the T cells to unleash an assault on cancer cells. Researchers have also developed potential treatments for autoimmune diseases that take the opposite tact: stimulating PD-1 interaction to keep T cells inactive. These PD-1 “agonists” have shown promise in clinical trials as treatments for certain autoimmune diseases.

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