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Researchers clone anti-inflammatory protein.

Researchers clone anti-inflammatory protein

Scientists say they have identified and cloned a protein that blocks the biochemical cascade causing inflammation and other complications of injury or infection. The feat culminates a six-year race among research laboratories and pharmaceutical companies to characterize and mass-produce the naturally occurring inhibitor, which many believe has great potential as an anti-inflammatory drug.

The protein binds strongly and specifically to cell-surface receptors that normally serve as docking sites for interleukin-1 (IL-1), a potent compound secreted by white blood cells under a variety of biological "emergencies." When IL-1 binds to its receptor, it triggers a series of reactions in surrounding cells, causing inflammation and immune hyperactivity. For example, IL-1 causes much of the swelling and cartilage damage seen in rheumatoid arthritis and plays a key role in organ transplant rejection.

With 10 other colleagues, Charles H. Hannum, Stephen P. Eisenberg and Robert C. Thompson of Synergen, Inc. in Boulder, Colo., isolated the IL-1 receptor blocker from human white blood cells, which produce tiny quantities of the substance as a means of regulating IL-1's activity. In two papers appearing in the Jan. 25 NATURE, they describe their decoding of the inhibitor's genetic sequence and the successful mass-production of the protein in bacteria. Preliminary studies indicate the protein blocks swelling and reduces cartilage degeneration in rats with injury-induced arthritis, without causing toxicity or clinically significant immune suppression, Thompson told SCIENCE NEWS. He says Synergen hopes to begin safety trials in humans later this year in conjunction with Hoffmann-LaRoche, Inc., of Nutley, N.J.

Even if the protein proves disappointing as a drug, it should provide valuable clues to scientists designing synthetic anti-inflammatory agents, the researchers and others say. "Everybody's wanted to clone this baby," says Charles Dinarello of Tufts University in Boston, who in 1984 took part in the first cloning of IL-1 itself. "There's a huge market for this stuff."
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Author:Weiss, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 27, 1990
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