Archive for the ‘immune system’ Category

By Sarah C. P. Williams

There’s a reason people say “Calm down or you’re going to have a heart attack.” Chronic stress—such as that brought on by job, money, or relationship troubles—is suspected to increase the risk of a heart attack. Now, researchers studying harried medical residents and harassed rodents have offered an explanation for how, at a physiological level, long-term stress can endanger the cardiovascular system. It revolves around immune cells that circulate in the blood, they propose.

The new finding is “surprising,” says physician and atherosclerosis researcher Alan Tall of Columbia University, who was not involved in the new study. “The idea has been out there that chronic psychosocial stress is associated with increased cardiovascular disease in humans, but what’s been lacking is a mechanism,” he notes.

Epidemiological studies have shown that people who face many stressors—from those who survive natural disasters to those who work long hours—are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fatty plaques inside blood vessels. In addition to fats and cholesterols, the plaques contain monocytes and neutrophils, immune cells that cause inflammation in the walls of blood vessels. And when the plaques break loose from the walls where they’re lodged, they can cause more extreme blockages elsewhere—leading to a stroke or heart attack.

Studying the effect of stressful intensive care unit (ICU) shifts on medical residents, biologist Matthias Nahrendorf of Harvard Medical School in Boston recently found that blood samples taken when the doctors were most stressed out had the highest levels of neutrophils and monocytes. To probe whether these white blood cells, or leukocytes, are the missing link between stress and atherosclerosis, he and his colleagues turned to experiments on mice.

Nahrendorf’s team exposed mice for up to 6 weeks to stressful situations, including tilting their cages, rapidly alternating light with darkness, or regularly switching the mice between isolation and crowded quarters. Compared with control mice, the stressed mice—like stressed doctors—had increased levels of neutrophils and monocytes in their blood.

The researchers then homed in on an explanation for the higher levels of immune cells. They already knew that chronic stress increases blood concentrations of the hormone noradrenaline; noradrenaline, Nahrendorf discovered, binds to a cell surface receptor protein called β3 on stem cells in the bone marrow. In turn, the chemical environment of the bone marrow changes and there’s an increase in the activity of the white blood cells produced by the stem cells.

“It makes sense that stress wakes up these immune cells because an enlarged production of leukocytes prepares you for danger, such as in a fight, where you might be injured,” Nahrendorf says. “But chronic stress is a different story—there’s no wound to heal and no infection.”

In mice living with chronic stress, Nahrendorf’s team reported today in Nature Medicine, atherosclerotic plaques more closely resemble plaques known to be most at risk of rupturing and causing a heart attack or stroke. When the scientists blocked the β3 receptor, though, stressed mice not only had fewer of these dangerous plaques, but also had reduced levels of the active immune cells in their plaques, pinpointing β3 as a key link between stress and atheroscelerosis.

The finding could lead to new drugs to help prevent cardiovascular disease, suggests biologist Lynn Hedrick of the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego, California. “I think this gives us a really direct hint that the β3 receptor is important in regulating the stress-induced response by the bone marrow,” Hedrick says. “If we can develop a drug that targets the receptor, this may be very clinically relevant.”

More immediately, the new observations suggest a way that clinicians could screen patients for their risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke, Tall says. “Rather than asking four questions about stress levels, we could use their white blood cell counts to monitor psychosocial stress,” he says.

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/06/how-stress-can-clog-your-arteries

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A person’s entire immune system can be rejuvenated by fasting for as little as three days as it triggers the body to start producing new white blood cells, a study suggests.

By Sarah Knapton

Fasting for as little as three days can regenerate the entire immune system, even in the elderly, scientists have found in a breakthrough described as “remarkable”.

Although fasting diets have been criticised by nutritionists for being unhealthy, new research suggests starving the body kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection.

Scientists at the University of Southern California say the discovery could be particularly beneficial for people suffering from damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy.

It could also help the elderly whose immune system becomes less effective as they age, making it harder for them to fight off even common diseases.

The researchers say fasting “flips a regenerative switch” which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system.

“It gives the ‘OK’ for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system,” said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California.

“And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting.

“Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or ageing, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”

Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose and fat but also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells.

During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells.

In trials humans were asked to regularly fast for between two and four days over a six-month period.

Scientists found that prolonged fasting also reduced the enzyme PKA, which is linked to ageing and a hormone which increases cancer risk and tumour growth.

“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system,” added Prof Longo.

“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Dr Longo said.

“What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?”

Fasting for 72 hours also protected cancer patients against the toxic impact of chemotherapy.

“While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy,” said co-author Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.

“More clinical studies are needed, and any such dietary intervention should be undertaken only under the guidance of a physician.”

“We are investigating the possibility that these effects are applicable to many different systems and organs, not just the immune system,” added Prof Longo.

However, some British experts were sceptical of the research.

Dr Graham Rook, emeritus professor of immunology at University College London, said the study sounded “improbable”.

Chris Mason, Professor of Regenerative Medicine at UCL, said: “There is some interesting data here. It sees that fasting reduces the number and size of cells and then re-feeding at 72 hours saw a rebound.

“That could be potentially useful because that is not such a long time that it would be terribly harmful to someone with cancer.

“But I think the most sensible way forward would be to synthesize this effect with drugs. I am not sure fasting is the best idea. People are better eating on a regular basis.”

Dr Longo added: “There is no evidence at all that fasting would be dangerous while there is strong evidence that it is beneficial.

“I have received emails from hundreds of cancer patients who have combined chemo with fasting, many with the assistance of the oncologists.

“Thus far the great majority have reported doing very well and only a few have reported some side effects including fainting and a temporary increase in liver markers. Clearly we need to finish the clinical trials, but it looks very promising.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10878625/Fasting-for-three-days-can-regenerate-entire-immune-system-study-finds.html

Artisanal Beer Brewers Find Growing Niche In Berlin

According to a new study, alcohol can boost your immune system. Researchers vaccinated animals and then gave them access to alcohol. Researchers found that the animals that had consumed alcohol also had faster responses to the vaccines. The researchers hope this study leads to a better understanding of how the immune system works, and how to improve its ability to respond to vaccines and infections. Moderate alcohol consumption has long been associated with a lower mortality rate.

Moderate alcohol consumption boosts your immune system while chronic alcohol consumption leads to a suppressed vaccine response. The difference between moderate and chronic is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. They define moderate as no more than four drinks on a single day and no more than 14 in a week for men. For women, it is defined as no more than three drinks on a single day and no more than seven in a week.

The study was published in the journal Vaccine.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X13014734

scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain_1

 

The link between a mother and child is profound, and new research suggests a physical connection even deeper than anyone thought. The profound psychological and physical bonds shared by the mother and her child begin during gestation when the mother is everything for the developing fetus, supplying warmth and sustenance, while her heartbeat provides a soothing constant rhythm.

The physical connection between mother and fetus is provided by the placenta, an organ, built of cells from both the mother and fetus, which serves as a conduit for the exchange of nutrients, gasses, and wastes. Cells may migrate through the placenta between the mother and the fetus, taking up residence in many organs of the body including the lung, thyroid muscle, liver, heart, kidney and skin. These may have a broad range of impacts, from tissue repair and cancer prevention to sparking immune disorders.

It is remarkable that it is so common for cells from one individual to integrate into the tissues of another distinct person. We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as singular autonomous individuals, and these foreign cells seem to belie that notion, and suggest that most people carry remnants of other individuals. As remarkable as this may be, stunning results from a new study show that cells from other individuals are also found in the brain. In this study, male cells were found in the brains of women and had been living there, in some cases, for several decades. What impact they may have had is now only a guess, but this study revealed that these cells were less common in the brains of women who had Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting they may be related to the health of the brain.

We all consider our bodies to be our own unique being, so the notion that we may harbor cells from other people in our bodies seems strange. Even stranger is the thought that, although we certainly consider our actions and decisions as originating in the activity of our own individual brains, cells from other individuals are living and functioning in that complex structure. However, the mixing of cells from genetically distinct individuals is not at all uncommon. This condition is called chimerism after the fire-breathing Chimera from Greek mythology, a creature that was part serpent part lion and part goat. Naturally occurring chimeras are far less ominous though, and include such creatures as the slime mold and corals.

 Microchimerism is the persistent presence of a few genetically distinct cells in an organism. This was first noticed in humans many years ago when cells containing the male “Y” chromosome were found circulating in the blood of women after pregnancy. Since these cells are genetically male, they could not have been the women’s own, but most likely came from their babies during gestation.

In this new study, scientists observed that microchimeric cells are not only found circulating in the blood, they are also embedded in the brain. They examined the brains of deceased women for the presence of cells containing the male “Y” chromosome. They found such cells in more than 60 percent of the brains and in multiple brain regions. Since Alzheimer’s disease is more common in women who have had multiple pregnancies, they suspected that the number of fetal cells would be greater in women with AD compared to those who had no evidence for neurological disease. The results were precisely the opposite: there were fewer fetal-derived cells in women with Alzheimer’s. The reasons are unclear.

Microchimerism most commonly results from the exchange of cells across the placenta during pregnancy, however there is also evidence that cells may be transferred from mother to infant through nursing. In addition to exchange between mother and fetus, there may be exchange of cells between twins in utero, and there is also the possibility that cells from an older sibling residing in the mother may find their way back across the placenta to a younger sibling during the latter’s gestation. Women may have microchimeric cells both from their mother as well as from their own pregnancies, and there is even evidence for competition between cells from grandmother and infant within the mother.

What it is that fetal microchimeric cells do in the mother’s body is unclear, although there are some intriguing possibilities. For example, fetal microchimeric cells are similar to stem cells in that they are able to become a variety of different tissues and may aid in tissue repair. One research group investigating this possibility followed the activity of fetal microchimeric cells in a mother rat after the maternal heart was injured: they discovered that the fetal cells migrated to the maternal heart and differentiated into heart cells helping to repair the damage. In animal studies, microchimeric cells were found in maternal brains where they became nerve cells, suggesting they might be functionally integrated in the brain. It is possible that the same may true of such cells in the human brain.

These microchimeric cells may also influence the immune system. A fetal microchimeric cell from a pregnancy is recognized by the mother’s immune system partly as belonging to the mother, since the fetus is genetically half identical to the mother, but partly foreign, due to the father’s genetic contribution. This may “prime” the immune system to be alert for cells that are similar to the self, but with some genetic differences. Cancer cells which arise due to genetic mutations are just such cells, and there are studies which suggest that microchimeric cells may stimulate the immune system to stem the growth of tumors. Many more microchimeric cells are found in the blood of healthy women compared to those with breast cancer, for example, suggesting that microchimeric cells can somehow prevent tumor formation. In other circumstances, the immune system turns against the self, causing significant damage. Microchimerism is more common in patients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis than in their healthy siblings, suggesting chimeric cells may have a detrimental role in this disease, perhaps by setting off an autoimmune attack.

This is a burgeoning new field of inquiry with tremendous potential for novel findings as well as for practical applications. But it is also a reminder of our interconnectedness.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain

 

Humans share about 99 percent of our genomes with chimpanzees. Now, research finds we share something else: gut bacteria.

The bacterial colonies that populate the chimpanzee intestinal tract are mirror images of those found in the human gut, researchers report today (Nov. 13) in the journal Nature Communications. The findings suggest gut bacteria patterns evolved before chimps and humans split and went their evolutionarily separate ways.

Human gut bacteria are crucial to health, with infants relying on healthy microbe populations to influence the developing immune system. Problems with microbe populations may also contribute to obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases. 

Three intestinal ecosystems

In 2011, researchers learned that everyone’s gut bacteria fall into one of three different types, almost analogous to blood types. In each type, certain bacteria dominate. These types weren’t linked to any personal characteristics such as geographic area, age or gender. Researchers dubbed these distinct bacterial ecosystems “enterotypes.” (“Entero” means gut or intestine.)

“No one really knows why these three enterotypes exist,” said study researcher Andrew Moeller, a doctoral student at Yale University.

Along with his adviser Howard Ochman and their colleagues, Moeller want to understand how these enterotypes arose. They could be distinctly human, he told LiveScience, which would suggest they arose relatively recently, perhaps in response to the development of agriculture. Or they could be ancient, shared among our closest primate relatives.

The researchers analyzed gut bacteria samples from 35 chimpanzees from Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. The chimpanzees were all in the subspecies Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, the eastern chimpanzee, which arose approximately the same time as Homo sapiens.

Shared bacteria

The researchers found that, just like humans, chimps’ guts harbor one of three distinct types of bacterial colonies. Even more intriguingly, these enterotypes matched humans’ precisely. In type 1, for example, both humans and chimps show a predominance of Bacteroides, Faecalibacterium and Parabacteroides.

There were some differences. For example, in humans and chimps, enterotype 2 is marked by an overabundance of bacteria called Lachnospiraceae. In humans, the bacteria Prevotellae is also prevalent in type 2. In chimps, Prevotellae appears in significant numbers in all three enterotypes, perhaps because it is associated with a high-carbohydrate diet.

Other differences could help explain certain human health issues. By comparing human and chimpanzee gut bacteria, the researchers found many of the bacteria present only in humans are linked to diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases, conditions that cause pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

Seven of the chimps in the study were tested repeatedly over eight years, and their gut microbes were found to change from type to type over that time period. No one has ever tested humans for changes over a period longer than two weeks, Moeller said, but the results suggest our enterotypes may shift over time, too.

Our shared history

The similarities between chimp and human colonies suggest enterotypes predate our species, which in turn suggests that none of the three ecosystems are better than the others, Moeller said. [Gallery: Tiny, Nasty Bugs That Make Us Sick]

“Before we found this in chimpanzees, there was a possibility that enterotypes were a product of modernization, which could mean they have some negative effects on health,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think one enterotype is going to have an effect on health that’s going to be better” than the others.

Moeller and his colleagues are now examining gorilla fecal samples to find out where they stand as slightly more distant primate relatives to humans.

“The next step is to try to find out the processes and mechanisms responsible for producing these three community states,” Moeller said, “which is kind of a lofty goal, but I think more sampling will actually reveal why these communities exist.”

http://www.livescience.com/24738-chimp-human-gut-bacteria-identical.html