How your immune system uses chaos to prevent disease

New research, appearing in the journal Nature Communications, reveals a new mechanism that is at play in cellular function.

 Chaotic swings of protein concentrations help keep our immune system alert and functional, preventing chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.





Modern research has unearthed many of the faulty mechanisms that are at play in cancer, yet science has plenty left to discover.
On a cellular level, some of these mechanisms revolve around what medical experts call signaling pathways.

 Cell signaling pathways regulate the growth, survival, and proliferation of cells.
In cancer, some signaling proteins are hyperactive, leading to the growth and proliferation of tumor cells, while others — which would normally act as tumor suppressors — are not functioning correctly.

Understanding the dynamic that is at play within cells is, therefore, key to preventing and overcoming cancer and many other chronic diseases.
New research may have broken new ground in this respect, as three scientists have discovered a new mechanism of cell regulation: chaos.
Doctoral researcher Mathias Heltberg and professor Mogens Høgh Jensen — both from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, together with Sandeep Krishna from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, set out to investigate how a particular protein stimulates gene activity.
The scientists found that chaotic dynamics is the answer. The protein they studied is Nuclear factor-κB (NF-kB).
NF-kB is key to keeping the body's immune system alert and functional. So the findings may help stave off more than cancer: diabetes and Alzheimer's disease could also be targets if researchers understand better how the body's natural defenses work.

Chaos is essential for immune response

NF-kB is a transcription factor that is critical for both "innate and adaptive immune functions," and it also mediates inflammatory responses. As a result, its levels in the body fluctuate with time, affecting gene and cell function.
Recent studies have shown that NF-kB signaling also plays a crucial role in cancer, providing the link between cancer development and inflammation.


In the current study, Prof. Jensen and his colleagues used mathematical calculations and lab experiments to show that chaotic ups and downs in NF-kB concentrations activate genes that would otherwise stay silent.

The NF-kB protein needs to be in a chaotic state in order to activate the right genes that allow for the optimal immune response, the study showed.
Until now, researchers believed that all living organisms avoided chaotic dynamics. But the new study challenges this belief, as the researchers show that chaotic swings in protein concentrations are critical for activating key genes.



"Chaos is a mathematically well-defined dynamic, one that, for example, has previously been used to explain great changes in weather systems," explains

 Prof. Jensen.
"With the enormous complexity that characterizes higher order living things, it is evident that chaotic dynamics will occur in different types of systems. But how chaos plays a decisive role in living cells is entirely new," the researcher adds.

How your immune system uses chaos to prevent disease How your immune system uses chaos to prevent disease Reviewed by Mr condenser on January 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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