The latest research promising to usher in a new era in understanding human health and disease involves something similar to the gargantuan Human Genome Project. Instead of mapping the human DNA system, however, the project, known at the Human Proteome Project or HPP, will attempt to diagram the architecture of the 5,000,000 proteins that receive “instruction” from the 20,244 human genes identified through the genome initiative.
Why is this important? Proteins are a vital part of nearly every process that takes place within human and animal cells. Proteins are components and controllers of various classes of immune cells. Mapping these proteins may provide much more information about how the human immune system operates, and how proteins may be engaged and redirected to help the immune system better fight or prevent disease.
One new research summary published today at the University of British Columbia illustrates this protein wizardry in the immune system:
“Overall (UBC researcher) and his team discovered a protein that acts like a molecular beacon or a green traffic light capable of directing white blood cells – or leukocytes – to the site of injury or bacterial infection, such as gingivitis or periodontitis. In the process, they found that instead of just chewing up and destroying the collagen matrix, these enzymes were also cutting the protein, “biting off” the first four amino acids at the end of the molecule. This resulted in a profound change in the behaviour of the protein, effectively turning the green traffic signal to red, and stopping the cascade of leukocytes to the site of inflammation.
“What we discovered was the off signal for inflammation,” Overall explains. “Without this off signal, inflammation becomes chronic and causes destruction of cells and tissues.”
In other words, such a protein can help immune cells “balance” their activity, so as to not over-respond and actually cause damage after the main infection-killing job is done.
It’s another example of “immune balancing” as the overall key to efficient, healthy immune performance.