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'Dead' gene comes to life and puts chill on inflammation

Discovery may explain how anti-inflammatory steroid drugs work, leading to entirely new classes of anti-inflammatory treatments without some of the side effect of steroids.

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A gene long presumed dead comes to life under the full moon of inflammation, Stanford University School of Medicine scientists have found.

The discovery, described in a study to be published July 23 in eLife, may help explain how anti-inflammatory steroid drugs work. It also could someday lead to entirely new classes of anti-inflammatory treatments without some of steroids' damaging side effects.

Chronic inflammation plays a role in cancer and in autoimmune, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, among others. Anti-inflammatory steroid drugs are widely prescribed for treating the inflammatory states that underlie or exacerbate these conditions.

"Inflammation tells your body something is wrong," said the study's senior author, Howard Chang, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at Stanford and the recipient of an early career scientist award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "But after it does its job of alerting immune cells to a viral or bacterial infection or spurring them to remove debris from a wound site, it has to get turned off before it causes harm to healthy tissue."

That appears to be what the "undead" gene does. Chang's team, which identified it, has named it Lethe, after the stream in Greek mythology that makes the deceased who cross it forget their pasts.

The master regulator of inflammation inside cells — a bulky...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Stanford University Medical Center