A study published tomorrow (10 April) in Science examines a key player in conditions such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma and has shown that cells use a sophisticated communication system to coordinate responses to infection and maintain inflammation in the body. This system is now a target for designing drugs to treat these conditions.
Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have combined biological experiments and mathematics to discover the secrets of NF-kappaB – a biological machine that coordinates the setting up and maintenance of inflammation in the body by broadcasting a signal to surrounding cells.
The team from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Warwick, along with scientists from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AstraZeneca R & D, Charnwood) have used Systems biology – a multidisciplinary approach that uses a combination of experimental and theoretical techniques to tackle biological problems – to investigate the role of NF-kappaB.
Professor Michael White of the University of Liverpool, who led the research said: “We know that successive peaks and troughs in the amount of NF-kappaB – forming a wave-like pattern over time – can exert exquisite control over many biological processes that underlie the symptoms of inflammation. Furthermore, what we now see is that different cell processes are determined once they pick up the frequency of peaks and troughs in the NF-kappaB signal, just like tuning in to an FM radio signal.”
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive and co-author of the paper in his previous role added: “This research is an example that shows truly integrated systems biology allowing us to get right to the bottom of a complex and important biological question i.e. can we better understand the fundamental biology of inflammation in order to treat disease?
“The results of our work simultaneously aid and challenge drug designers; it will not simply be a matter of using a drug to knock down one key biological player in an inflammatory disease. This research tells us that cells in inflammatory tissues may use very precise timing to communicate between each other in order to determine the overall response to infection and the extent to which inflammation is maintained. Systems biology is enabling us to get a complete picture of the biology underpinning inflammation and thus pinpoint the potential axes of control that might be targeted with drugs.”