Inflammation is the body's protective response to injury and infection; it is a complex process involving many cell types, as well as different components of blood.
The inflammatory process works quickly to destroy and eliminate foreign and damaged cells, and to isolate the infected or injured tissues from the rest of the body. Inflammatory disorders arise when inflammation becomes uncontrolled, and causes destruction of healthy tissue. There are dozens of inflammatory disorders. Many occur when the immune system mistakenly triggers inflammation in the absence of infection, such as inflammation of the joints in rheumatoid arthritis. Others result from a response to tissue injury or trauma but affect the entire body.
There are many ways by which normal cells and tissues can be damaged during inflammation. One important mechanism is by assembly of a complex of proteins that forms holes on the surface of a cell, where it causes damage and can potentially kill the cell. This complex is called a Membrane Attack Complex or MAC. Torrey Pines Institute researchers are working to understand how MAC contributes to a number of inflammation-associated disorders, including the complications of diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Understanding how MAC assembles will provide insights into the design of drugs to prevent inflammatory damage to cells.
Inflammation is also an important secondary component of many diseases. An example of this is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, where inflammation can cause more damage to arteries in a failed attempt to heal the artery wall. There is also an important link between obesity and inflammation, because substances that promote inflammation are released from fat cells, as well as from other cells embedded in fat tissue. The Institute’s scientists are leading the way in understanding these new and exciting areas of inflammation research.
Principal Investigators are working on the following challenges in the area of Inflammatory Diseases:
- Discovering how the components of the Membrane Attack Complex (MAC) assemble and attach to cells.
- Determining the 3D structures of the MAC, to help with the design of drugs that will specifically block MAC formation.
- Understanding how cells within fat tissues release substances that promote inflammation.
- Uncovering the role of inflammation in linking obesity to insulin resistance and type II diabetes.
- Understanding how traumatic injury and infections cause shock, which is a result of the inflammatory mediator response.