Oxygen level affects how cells behave
A new study by the University of Edinburgh has found that oxygen levels in the body can have a profound effect on the way cells behave.
The research, published in the journal Science Immunology, could pave the way to new treatments that target the immune response to infection.
In the study of mice, researchers found that bacteria infections have vastly different outcomes depending on the level of oxygen in the body when infection takes hold.
In mice that had low levels of oxygen in the body when the virus took hold, the immune system launched a massive overreaction. Fatal illness occurred, even though the bacteria had cleared from the body.
If the mice had low oxygen levels before the virus took hold, the researchers found that this protects the body from illness, without preventing it from fighting the bacteria.
If human cells react in the same way, researchers say that oxygen sensing mechanisms could be ‘tweaked’ in order to tackle infections.
It is hoped that the findings will help people suffering from chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema. These patients often have low levels of oxygen in their body and are more susceptible to infection.
“We are excited by our observation that oxygen levels can regulate immune cell responses to infection,” commented Dr Sarah Walmsley, of the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh.
“Targeting these pathways could have the potential to improve outcomes from infections where oxygen is limited.”