A new study conducted by researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet describes how macrophages, which are different kinds of immune cells, can develop in the lungs and cause serious lung diseases.
Macrophages have many functions in the body, including protecting the lungs from attacks by bacteria and viruses. The lungs’ structure exposes them to both these pathogens through blood and air. However, under specific conditions, the macrophages can also cause severe lung disease such as the coronavirus and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). However, research on human lung macrophages development is scanty.
Macrophages develop from a type of white blood cell known as monocytes. There are two types of monocytes in humans: CD16+ monocytes (nonclassical) and CD14+ monocytes (classical).
The researchers used a model to directly study lung-macrophages development in a living lung. The study was conducted in combination with a method to study RNA sequencing and individual cells gene activity, which led to the discovery of how blood monocytes developed into lung macrophages in humans. The study was reported in “Immunity” and may help in the development of future treatments for the coronavirus.
Tim Willinger, the study lead and an associate professor at the Institutet’s Department of Medicine, stated that the study demonstrated that classical monocytes moved into lung tissue and airways and are transformed into macrophages. These macrophages then protect the function and health of the lungs. He explained that the researchers had identified HLA-DRhi, an immune cell that’s an intermediate airway macrophage and blood monocyte. The researchers observed that these monocytes could leave the blood circulation and move into the lung tissue. Unlike these monocytes, CD16+ monocytes do not move into lung tissue despite developing into macrophages in the lungs’ blood vessels.
Elza Evren, the first author of the study, stated that in respiratory infections, monocytes found in the lungs grow into macrophages to help fight the bacteria and viruses. However, some specific macrophage types could also lead to infections and severe inflammation in the lungs.
The researchers believe that if an individual is infected with COVID-19, the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2, causes macrophages that prevent inflammation in the lungs to be replaced by lung macrophages that encourage inflammation instead.
Willinger explained that other studies had shown that the existence of macrophages derived from blood monocytes corresponded with how seriously ill an individual became when infected with the coronavirus in addition to how extensively the individual’s lungs were damaged.
Meanwhile, other biotech companies are also pressing ahead with finding remedies to other health threats. For example, AzurRx BioPharma Inc. (NASDAQ: AZRX) is focused on using recombinant proteins to develop therapies for gastrointestinal conditions.
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