September 20, 2022 — One of the most complex and mysterious organs in the human body, the immune system is more diverse than previously understood, researchers report in the emerging field of mechanoimmunology, as they track how our bodies fight disease and how to intervene successfully.
Unlike other systems that rely on organs to function, the immune system uses millions of different specialized cells to patrol every corner of the body in search of invaders and dispatch them as needed. They also rely heavily on the microbiome, the bustling communities of bacteria that perform many of our basic functions even though they are not actually the cells of our bodies.
Scientists are learning more and more every day about how it works immune system He is working, and now, researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, are set to discover how physical — not just chemical — forces in the cellular environment play a vital role in immune function.
Mechanical activity has already been seen as playing a role in other body systems, particularly the cardiovascular and skeletal systems. accumulation in arteries subordinate heart It can reduce blood flow, extreme pressure on bones can lead to stress fractures, and pressure on tissue can cause scarring.
The idea that physical properties, not just chemical reactions, have a significant impact on immune function is a new one that is just beginning to gain attention. Dan WinnerMD, associate professor at the Buck Institute, discovered in his study obesity That increase in adipose tissue activates fibrosis – thickened scar tissue – which then It releases surrounding cells To remain alert to potential threats to the body and to respond to chronic diseases.
Now, his lab is expanding its focus on mechanoimmunology to discover how physical forces affect autoimmunity, increasing or decreasing ignition and healing powers after tissue injury.
Expanding scientists’ understanding of these forces will open the door to new therapies to treat disease – approaches that rely on altering the microphysical environment of tissues rather than delivering drugs to induce chemical reactions. For example, cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, involves tissue much stronger than surrounding healthy liver tissue. If researchers can develop a treatment that reduces this stiffness, nearby immune cells may lower their inflammatory response in the liver, which could have a positive effect on fatty liver disease. Other applications of this concept may address how treatments respond to infection or help speed healing