Everyone knows that fasting is good for health. But for the first time, a group of researchers including from the University of Hyderabad in India, unravelled the mechanism of body’s ability to adapt to nutrient scarcity and control inflammation of the intestines.
The study was published in the latest issue of the internationally renowned research journal, Nature. The research team was headed by Dr Bali Pulendran from Emory University, Atlanta, USA. The team worked in collaboration with Dr Nooruddin Khan, assistant professor in the department of biotechnology and bioinformatics, University of Hyderabad. The path-breaking study revealed the mechanism of body’s ability to adapt to nutrient scarcity. The study found that limiting nutrients could be a great booster of vaccine-induced immunity and protective of intestinal inflammation.
“Fasting is practised in many religions and traditions to bring caloric restrictions. However, complete understanding about how calorie restriction benefits our health system has been unknown so far,” points out Dr Niyaz Ahmed, chair of the biotechnology and bioinformatics, School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad.
Earlier, while studying immune responses to the yellow fever vaccine (one of the most effective in the history) through genome-wide “systems biology” approaches, these authors have identified a gene whose activation in key immune cells was found to be a sign of a robust, protective immune response. The gene identified was GCN2, which is a known metabolic sensor involved in sensing amino acid starvation and found to regulate the process of autophagy, a response to starvation or stress within cells.
According to a release, Dr Khan’s laboratory at the University of Hyderabad has been using these molecules as an adjuvant to engineer vaccines against challenging infections such as HIV, tuberculosis, and dengue. Dr Pulendran in collaboration with Dr Khan has shown that low protein diet – or drugs that mimic its effects on immune cells – could be tools for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
The result could have implications for treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. The researchers have shown that responses of Th17 immune cells, which are important in several autoimmune diseases, are controlled by GCN2. The HCU team is further attempting to dig deeper into the biology of nutrient sensing and its immunological regulations during infectious diseases such as TB, dengue, and HIV. It is also involved in research for the development of therapeutic interventions against metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and irritable bowel diseases.