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Immune Cells' Infection-Fighting Secrets Revealed

Discoveries could bring treatments that fight harmful bugs

FRIDAY, July 1, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- New insights into how white blood cells boost their ability to fight invading bacteria could someday aid doctors in the fight against "flesh-eating" streptococcus and other pathogens.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) say these immune cells gain power by increasing their levels of a protein called hypoxia inducible transcription factor-1 (HIF-1). HIF-1 then stimulates the white blood cells to release antimicrobial compounds that go to work killing bacterial invaders.

The UCSD team also found that specific chemicals can increase white blood cells' HIF-1 levels, pumping up the cells' ability to destroy bacteria. And they found that HIF-1 stimulates the production of small proteins, enzymes and nitric oxide, which work together as a bacteria-fighting team.

The study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, may help in the development of new treatments for a range of serious infections.

"These findings suggest a potential novel approach to treatment of difficult infections such as those produced by antibiotic resistant bacteria or those affecting patients with weakened immune systems due to chronic disease, cancer chemotherapy or AIDS," Victor Nizet, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"Rather than designing drugs to target the bacteria, medications that promote HIF-1 activity could be used to boost the bacterial killing ability of white blood cells and promote the resolution of infection through the actions of our natural defenses," Nizet explained.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about the immune system.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, July 1, 2005
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