Groundbreaking Research Identifies Molecular Pathway Underlying Key Infection-Fighting Mechanism

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (Worcester), Harvard University and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announce the discovery of a new pathway underlying the body's innate immune response, which provides immediate, first-line defense against organisms such as viruses.

The research, published in the online edition of Nature Immunology, represents an important advance in understanding how the immune system responds rapidly to infection before more specific responses -- such as antibody production -- are activated. The new discovery may also provide important insights into inflammatory processes and, possibly, into cancer cell proliferation.

The new pathway features two proteins known as I kappa B kinase epsilon and TANK-binding kinase-1. These proteins were shown to provide essential signals that lead to increased production of interferon and other proteins that stimulate defensive responses.

"The significance of this discovery goes beyond the innate immune response," said Tom Maniatis, PhD, department of molecular and cellular biology, Harvard University. "There are many similarities between this and inflammatory responses, as well as an important connection to the NF kappa B pathway."

The new research establishes an activation pathway for the body's innate immune response, a non-specific defensive response that is activated against infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria. The similarities between this response and inflammatory processes suggest that the new pathway could potentially be relevant for these processes as well. The connection with the NF kappa B pathway is also significant because of the central role that NF kappa B plays, not just in the innate immune response, but also in inflammation and cancer cell proliferation.

"We now understand more clearly how the body coordinates responses that are important in fighting infections and inflammation," said Katherine Fitzgerald, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

"Some of the most advanced medical research today involves understanding the pathways of disease," said Robert I. Tepper, MD, president of research and development at Millennium. "This provides new avenues of research that will hopefully one day lead to new ways of treating infectious disease as well as inflammation and possibly even cancer."

Source: Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc.