Emerging science is showing us that a natural protein produced in many mammals, including humans, called tristetraprolin plays a critical role in the development, progression, and possibly treatment of inflammatory conditions such a rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis, cancer, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Tristetraprolin, TTP for short, interacts with RNA in complex ways that regulate gene expression and inflammation. You can see just how important TTP is in the photo below–the bottom mouse is just a normal healthy mouse, and the mouse above is deficient in TTP.
Scientists are trying to figure out the exact mechanisms that TTP works, and why some people produce more of it than others. If we can figure out how to boost TTP production in the body, science may have a way to curb inflammation at the root of so many chronic illnesses.
A study published Feb. 1, 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked closely at these concepts.
Perry Blackshear, M.D., D.Phil., a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, led the team that genetically altered the TTP gene in mice, so that the animals produced higher than normal amounts of the TTP protein. The mice were then tested using experimental models of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis. Experimental models are used to study processes thought to be involved in human diseases, and to evaluate and select therapies that affect these processes.
“Mice with more TTP in their bodies were resistant to the inflammation that accompanied these experimental models of disease,” Blackshear said. “We also found evidence of how TTP is providing this protection.”
Blackshear said TTP exerts its beneficial effect by targeting several messenger molecules that encode cytokines, proteins known to be involved in inflammation. TTP binds to these molecules and destabilizes them, resulting in lower levels of cytokines and, thus, decreased inflammation.
Blackshear anticipates that TTP-based treatments would be cost effective and easy to administer. Future work will seek to identify compounds that have similar effects on the levels of TTP in the body.
“Many current therapies for these inflammatory diseases are expensive and require the medicines be introduced into the body under the skin, in the muscle, or by intravenous injection,” said Sonika Patial, D.V.M., Ph.D., a research fellow in Blackshear’s research group and lead author on the paper. “Our ideal treatments would be administered orally in pill or liquid form.”
Science does not yet know how to boost the production of TTP in the body or if supplementation would be beneficial. TTP is a zinc-based protein, so it would stand to reason that those deficient in zinc may have decreased TTP production.