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The building blocks of happiness fight diseases
Laughter is the best medicine - this is what people have been saying for a long time. No wonder, because those who laugh are happy and those who are happy release happiness hormones. An international team of researchers recently discovered that a building block of happiness hormones actually strengthens our immune system and even helps fight diseases.
Researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) and Boston Children's Hospital in Harvard recently showed a completely new way to combat autoimmune diseases, asthma, allergies and even cancer. The focus of the research is on a building block with which the body produces the happiness hormones serotonin and dopamine. The study team discovered that this building block also activates the immune system's defense cells. The results of the work have recently been published in the renowned journal "Nature".
What do killer cells and happiness hormones have in common?
Both the killer cells (T cells) of our immune system as well as serotonin and dopamine need the same building block to function. The international team of researchers identified the happiness hormone molecule tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) as the basic activator of our immune cells. "The fascinating thing about our discovery is that a system that is actually known from neurobiology can play such a key role in immune defense in T cells," explains IMBA director Josef Penninger in a press release.
Fight cancer independently
A new approach recently showed what the body is capable of, in which its own immune system is specifically activated to fight cancer cells in the body independently. These findings were honored with the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In order to deepen the knowledge about the immune defense, its activation and the involved metabolic processes, the team around Penninger examined the biology of immune cells more closely and recognized new possibilities for diverse medical applications.
Completely new and wide range of applications
"This new approach links two completely different systems in our body and differs from all previously known immune checkpoints," said Penninger. This opens up a wide range of therapeutic options that can be used, for example, to treat inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, allergies, skin diseases or cancer.
BH4 prepares the soldiers of the immune system to fight
BH4 has long been known to scientists. It is known that the molecule is involved in numerous metabolic processes. What is new, however, is that BH4 also controls the growth of T cells that act as "soldiers of our immune system". According to the researchers, this process takes place via iron metabolism. This is also the reason why people with iron deficiency or anemia often suffer from immune problems.
How our immune system works
The IMBA research team explains the defense process of our immune system in more detail: "T cells patrol our body and expose pathogens or degenerate cells that could become tumors." If such an encounter occurs, the T cells become BH4 activated: You start to reproduce and start fighting. However, this could lead to misinterpretations, because incorrectly activated T cells begin to attack the body's own cells. This event can lead to allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases.
Targeted control of the immune system
"Autoimmune diseases and allergies are among the most common increasing diseases worldwide and therapies are urgently needed," emphasizes Penninger. In the new approach against autoimmune diseases, BH4 is to be specifically inhibited so that the T cells are not put into a constant mode of attack. This would stop them from destroying healthy tissue or causing chronic inflammation. The first clinical tests of the new active ingredient QM385, which is said to inhibit BH4, are already in the starting blocks.
The process is reversed to fight cancer
In the case of cancer, the opposite is exactly the case: Here, promoting BH4 can help the immune system to better detect cancer cells and fight them more effectively. Initial tests on mice have already shown that BH4 helps rodents fight cancer. “If you can find cross-connections between different biological systems in the body, such as the nervous system and the immune system in this case, you can sometimes make astonishing discoveries,” summarizes the research team. (vb)