Shedding Light on the Role of Peroxisomes in Immune Disorders
Immune disorders encompass a wide spectrum of human diseases and have an ever-increasing impact on our health. In fact, Canada has one of the highest incidences of immune disorders in the world, with more than 2 million Canadians suffering from severe autoimmune diseases and one in 1,000 diagnosed with immune deficiency. As a result, there is a pressing need to characterize the underlying networks that govern the function of immune cells in both health and disease.
To that end, Dr. Francesca Di Cara, Canada Research Chair in Human Immunology and Host Pathogen Interactions, studies how cells’ use of energy and wastes (metabolism) can control the immune system’s activity in health and disease.
All cells contain structures called peroxisomes. Peroxisomes control important processes in metabolism, such as how cells use fats and remove toxins. Studies carried out on fruit flies have allowed Di Cara and her research team to discover that peroxisomes are critical in activating the immune defense against bacterial infections in our immune cells. Fruit flies have been used in research for the past 200 years to understand how our cells work because their genes can be manipulated easily and their basic cellular processes are similar to those in humans, including aspects of immune defense. Di Cara’s program uses fruit flies to study how peroxisomes turn certain immune defenses on and off.
Di Cara aims to understand what goes wrong in the immune cells of patients affected by severe immune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis. Ultimately, her work is opening up new avenues for exploring the potential of peroxisomes to alter the immune response.