Newly identified mechanism provides knowledge about diseases

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A research group at Aarhus University in Denmark identified a mechanism which is activated in the cells of the immune system when they are attacked by disease, according to new research published in the journal Nature Immunology.

 The discovery involves the protein STING, which sends signals to the nucleus of the cell when an infection threatens. Previous research has shown that the cells in the immune system are activated through signaling systems organized in what are known as cascades. A system of step-by-step reactions are initiated by infection, or when cancer cells are eaten by immune cells. One of these is the cGAS-STING signal cascade, which plays a key role in several diseases. The new study shows that STING's “journey” within the cell trains the activity of the STING signal cascade.

An active immune system protects against diseases and infections. An overactive immune system is the body's worst enemy. One example of this is multiple sclerosis, which is a so-called autoimmune disease, while an overactive immune system also leads to some novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients becoming seriously ill.

For many years, it has been common knowledge that a well-functioning immune system is extremely important for our health. Even a commonplace infection becomes life-threatening if the immune system is not ready for the fight.

Identifying the mechanism behind STING's journey and the discovery of the new protein STEEP opens the way to a previously unknown branch in our understanding of the immune system.

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