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Virginia Tech Infection Models Reveal Critical Pathway In Immune Response

Monday, September 22, 2014  
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Scientists from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt University have made steps toward understanding the immune response involved in Helicobacter pylori infection — a common cause of stomach ulcers.

Using a combined computational and experimental approach, the researchers demonstrated how a protein known as IL-21 may play a key role in immune responses to H. pylori infection. IL-21 is produced by a variety of immune cells and has anti-tumor and anti-viral properties. But it also leads to excessive inflammation. Often, the immune and inflammatory responses triggered by the bacteria are far worse than the infection itself, and it is these responses that lead to pathology and disease.

"Although IL-21 is helpful in many ways, in the case of H. pylori infections, it can exacerbate damage to the stomach. Computational modeling has helped us determine how the IL-21 pathway affects inflammation, and this will lead to the development of better therapies," said Adria Carbo, first author of the study and a researcher with the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute.

The study was published in MBio. Center researchers are using computational simulations to find innovative ways to modulate the IL-21 response.

"The computational models we've developed have greatly increased understanding of the role of IL-21 in modulating immune responses to pathogens," said Raquel Hontecillas, co-director and immunology leader of the center. "We can now move toward development of IL-21-based host-targeted therapeutics against infectious and immune-mediated diseases."

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