Researchers have made important discoveries into the function of a protein that is involved in autoimmune disease and its role in hampering stem cell transplantation.
Professor Paul Moss of Birmingham University, UK, and his team examined the protein called ULBP6 which is involved in the rate of apoptosis triggered by natural killer cells.
There are two major types of this protein in the population, differing only by two amino acids out of about 180. However, the researchers found that this difference can have an important influence on patient outcomes.
In their study they found that one form of ULBP6 forms a very strong bond with its receptor NKG2D on the immune system, and acts to block the signalling pathway when released into the local environment. This acts to reduce killing by the immune system rather than increase it.
Details were published on 30 May, in Science Signaling.
Professor Moss said: 'This is important as previous studies have shown that the type of protein that we inherit from our parents can influence our risk of autoimmune disease and affect how we respond to some forms of cancer treatment.
'The ULBP6 protein is found on the surface of damaged cells, including several types of cancer cells, and acts as a "flag" to signal to white cells in our immune system that the damaged cell should be killed.
'People who inherit a certain subtype of ULBP6 have been shown to have a poor outcome after stem cell transplantation, a procedure used to treat leukaemia.'
Professor Moss added that the team now aims to understand how this information might be used to improve the outcome of patients undergoing stem cell transplantation.
Source: Zuo, J. et al. A disease-linked ULBP6 polymorphism inhibits NKG2D-mediated target cell killing by enhancing the stability of NKG2D-ligand binding. <i>Science Signaling</i> 30 May 2017; doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aai8904
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