Researchers boost understanding of blood cell formation

Thursday, 15 February, 2001

Researchers at The Australian National University have developed a map of a complex chemical receptor in the human body that plays an important role in the immune system. The receptor (the beta common receptor) controls the growth and activity of white blood cells involved in asthma, allergies, bacterial infections and some leukemias. Understanding how the receptor is activated by hormone-like signals may ultimately lead to new treatments for asthma and leukemia.

The research was carried out by Professor Ian Young's group in the John Curtin School of Medical Research and Drs Paul Carr and David Ollis in the Research School of Chemistry. The team created a 3D model of the common part of the receptor that reacts to three hormone-like cytokines or chemical messages (IL-3, IL-5, GM-CSF). The cytokines trigger host defence mechanisms, for example the creation of more white blood cells.

Previous theories about how the receptors work have been based on the first structure determined in the family - the growth hormone receptor. However, the receptor studied by the group has revealed a complex and unusual structure.

"Determining the structures of the receptors involved and of the receptor-cytokline complexes is important in understanding how the signaling is achieved and in developing drugs which specifically turn the receptors on or off," Professor Young said.

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