Blocking key molecule key to curb autoimmune disease: Study

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Sydney: Scientists have discovered a key molecule that holds promise for people who suffer from chronic inflammation as their immune systems overreact to 'self' tissue.

Known as 'Interleukin 21', it is one of a group of chemical messengers known as 'cytokines' which affect the behaviour of immune cells.

“There are many people with chronic inflammation caused by defective T cell regulation and this research suggests that blocking IL-21 with drugs might help them,” said immunologist Cecile King, associate professor at Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

IL-21 is already well known to play an important role in autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome and type 1 diabetes.

In experiments on mice, the findings showed how important it is to remove IL-21 to reduce inflammation even where there are other severe immune defects present.

When IL-21 is blocked, the huge inflammatory response is greatly subdued, although not entirely eliminated, said the study published in the Journal of Immunology.