A new player in the battle against hepatitis prevents inflammation and the death of liver cells

September 01, 2005

Ghent, Belgium -- Scientists from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) have again achieved a breakthrough in research on hepatitis. The researchers, connected to Ghent University, have discovered the function of one of the most important proteins involved in hepatitis. Using a mouse model, they have shown that the protein prevents inflammation of the liver as well as the death of liver cells. This discovery can form the basis for the development of a new therapy in the battle against hepatitis in humans.

Hepatitis, a liver disorder

Hepatitis is a collective term for a number of inflammations of the liver whose symptoms strongly resemble each other. These inflammations can have a wide variety of causes, such as alcohol abuse or infection by a hepatitis virus. Hepatitis B and C, for example, are caused by a virus through contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of infected persons. In some cases, the person remains a carrier of the virus, and chronic hepatitis and even cancer of the liver can develop.

In Belgium, at least 700,000 people have had hepatitis B, and 5%-10% of these persons are still chronic carriers of the virus. Each year, there are about 6000 new infections. The number of people with hepatitis C comes to 80,000-100,000 - and 60%-80% of these persons develop chronic hepatitis. There is a vaccination against hepatitis B, but none against hepatitis C.

A new role for the protein ABIN-1

TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) is produced by our body, normally in small quantities. In inflammations of the liver, excessive TNF production activates the mechanisms that lead to inflammation and the death of liver cells and liver tissue. In addition, excessive TNF in liver cells stimulates the protein NF-ƒÛB, which is also responsible for the inflammation of the liver. This makes NF-ƒÛB an attractive target for a therapy that would neutralize the inflammation. However, an ideal therapy also needs to prevent the death of the liver cells.

The new player that this research brings a step closer to the realization of such a therapy is the protein ABIN-1. From previous research by the VIB research group - led by Rudi Beyaert - it turns out that ABIN-1 inhibits the action of NF-ƒÛB. Now, Andy Wullaert and several colleagues from this team have shown that an extra dose of ABIN-1 provides a double protection to liver cells in mice. With an elevated production of ABIN-1, this protein will neutralize the inflammation caused by NF-ƒÛB and also prevent the complete death of liver cells after induction by TNF.

ABIN-1 in the treatment of liver disorders

This research discloses the double protective action of ABIN-1 in liver disorders. NF-ƒÛB, also responsible for inflammations, is inhibited by an elevated presence of ABIN-1. In addition, ABIN-1 also counteracts the death of liver cells. Further research can lead to new therapies in the battle against hepatitis, through which - by increasing the presence of ABIN-1 in the liver - one can inhibit the inflammation and prevent dell death.
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VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

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