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New Immune Cells Th22 Prevent, Treat Inflammation


A groundbreaking discovery of a new type of immune cells, Th22, which can protect the body against inflammation, may lead the way to new treatments for inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and respiratory diseases such as asthma. Word of the Th22 discovery comes from scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen and the Center of Allergy and Environment (ZAUM) of the Technical University of Munich.

The newly found Th22 cells are a type of T-helper cells which until now no one had discovered. T-helper cells are white blood cells that play a critical role in the immune system, as they help activate and enhance the activity of other immune cells when bacterial and viral infections attack the body. T-helper cells also have an important role in preventing or curbing inflammation, which is involved in a myriad of diseases and ailments, ranging from asthma to heart disease, arthritis, psoriasis, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen and the University of Munich, along with colleagues from London and Rome, discovered the Th22 cells during analysis of skin samples from patients who had atopic eczema, allergic contact dermatitis, and psoriasis. The Th22 cells get their name from the fact that the researchers noticed the newly discovered cells were mainly characterized by the signaling molecule called interleukin-22.

According to the news release from Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, the researchers “consider the discovery of the Th22 cells to be a milestone in immunology, providing a new starting point for the future treatment of chronic inflammatory disease such as eczema, scleroderma, asthma or COPD,” noted Professor Heidrun Behrendt, director of ZAUM. The investigators report that Th22 cells facilitate tissue repair, warn skin cells of impending attack, and then stimulate the cells to protect themselves. Th22 cells also can help strengthen the barriers of the skin and perhaps the lungs as well by stimulating the cells to make more collagen.

The Munich researchers and their colleagues are investigating Th22-specific genes, which will aid in the development of treatments for patients who have chronic skin and respiratory diseases characterized by inflammation. Their efforts will be welcomed by the millions of people who suffer with these conditions. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, for example, about 7.5 million Americans and 125 million people worldwide have this skin disorder, while the Environmental Protection Agency notes that 7.7 percent of the US population has asthma.

Environmental Protection Agency
Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen news release, Nov. 18, 2009
National Psoriasis Foundation