Chronic inflammation is a serious challenge for the body, often leading to severe diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, among others.

These chronic inflammatory disorders are difficult to treat, but the secret may lie in controlling the inflammation with the help of a newly identified enzyme.

The Role Of Inflammasomes

In the study published in the journal Nature, researchers from the University of California San Diego identified an enzyme that activates the NLRP3 inflammasome.

Inflammasomes are protein-based molecules that trigger inflammation as a response to cell stress, tissue injury, or infectious organisms. UC San Diego Health notes that while inflammation is a crucial part of the healing process, chronic inflammation can lead to serious illnesses.

In particular, the NLRP3 inflammasome is actually implicated in a number of severe chronic inflammatory disorders. Therefore, the discovery of the CMPK2 enzyme's role in this inflammasome may be key in the prevention of these diseases.

"It has been obvious for some time that, when available, drugs that turn off the NLRP3 inflammasome, but not other inflammasomes, will be very useful for treating a variety of inflammatory disorders, from osteoarthritis to Alzheimer's disease and cancer," first author Zhenyu Zhong, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego School of Medicine, explains in a statement. "Until now, it was not clearly understood how environmental stress and tissue injury activate the NLRP3 inflammasome and, without such knowledge, it was impossible to rationally design specific inhibitors of the NLRP3 inflammasome."

How It Works

The hormone behind both benefits and adverse effects of inflammation is an interleukin called IL-1β, which is usually produced in very small amounts. However, injury, environmental stress, infection, or chronic inflammation causes an increase in its production.

These specific situations are detected by sensor proteins, and one of the most important of these sensors is NLRP3, which means it's greatly responsible for the activation of inflammasomes and the production of IL-1β.

In the study, Zhong and his team recognized the role of the CMPK2 enzyme in activating NLRP3 and IL-1β production. Subsequently, this enzyme is also an important step in developing chronic inflammatory disorders.

By inhibiting this enzyme, the harmful effects of inflammation could potentially be reduced.

"I predict that specific inhibitors of CMPK2 can be easily and rapidly developed," senior author Michael Karin says. "Once available, such compounds may provide us with new treatments for many diverse untreatable and common illnesses, including osteoarthritis, Alzheimer's disease and lung cancer."