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Natural Approach to Immune Regulation May Help Transplant Patients

A molecule expressed during pregnancy seems to turn down the immune system, making it more tolerant of welcome visitors such as a fetus or maybe a transplanted heart//, researchers say.

Human leukocyte antigen G, or HLA-G, is a member of a gene family called major histocompatibility complex that provokes an immune response, says Dr. Anatolij Horuzsko, reproductive immunologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

Like an errant child, HLA-G instead promotes tolerance, and researchers have found it can even make other gene family members more accepting, says Dr. Horuzsko, who is presenting his research during the Fourth International Conference on HLA-G July 10-13 in Paris and chairing a session on structure and receptor interaction. His research also is featured in the August issue of the European Journal of Immunology.

The placenta expresses HLA-G from the earliest stages of embryo implantation and the molecule goes away toward the end of pregnancy. Growth factors and cytokines – signaling compounds involved in the development and function of the immune system – bring to the surface inhibitory receptors previously buried inside immune cells so they can interact with the HLA-G.

Amazingly, scientists have documented this natural immunosuppression, to a lesser extent, in at least one more situation: when an organ is transplanted. Dr. Horuzsko wants to augment this natural process so transplant patients won't require a lifetime of generalized immune suppression that puts them at risk for many other diseases.

He has created animal models in which these inhibitory receptors are expressed on the cell surface. Using the same mixture the body uses – cytokines and growth factors – he also gets the receptors expressed on the surface of human cells in a test tube. He gives HLA-G in both situations and studies the response.

In dendritic cells, major orchestrators of the immune response, he has watched how act
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