New study discovers gene that keeps our immune system in check

1 May 2020
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Researchers at Hull York Medical School discover new gene that keeps our immune system in check

Researchers at York and Hull York Medical School have discovered a new mechanism which is used by cells of the immune system to control the strength of our response to infections.They have found that our immune system response is affected by the presence of the gene Malat1.

Although a good immune response is necessary for clearing infections, if this response is too strong it can lead to severe, life-threatening disease.

This research found that Malat1 keeps immunity to infection under control. In experimental models of leishmaniasis, a loss of Malat1 leads to weaker immunity and poor pathogen clearance. However, in pre-clinical models of malaria, loss of Malat1 leads to less severe immune-driven disease.

Dr Dimitris Lagos from Hull York Medical School, who led the study in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Biology in York and The Wellcome Sanger Institute said: “This work highlights the fragile balance between the protective and damage-causing aspects of our immune system. We know that, for diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis, being on the right side of this balance can make all the difference between an infection causing mild symptoms or resulting in life-threatening disease. 

"We are all currently witnessing the same with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is, therefore, crucial to understand the “stop” and “go” signals of our immune system, so we can potentially develop novel and better immunotherapies for infectious diseases."

The study, supported by The Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council. ‘Malat1 Suppresses Immunity to Infection through Promoting Expression of Maf and IL-10 in Th Cells,’ is published in The Journal of Immunology.