World-first discovery reveals another piece in the puzzle of how inflammation is controlled

In a world-first, Monash University researchers have discovered a new role that a specific protein plays in the control of inflammation, potentially paving the way for improved treatments for a range of conditions, including gout and arthritis.

Published in NatureCommunications, the research shows how macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF)—a protein that effects the behaviour of cells—could specifically control a wide variety of immune and inflammatory responses.

Study author Dr Jim Harris said the discovery shows that MIF plays a very specific role in regulating particular interleukins, a group of proteins expressed by white blood cells.

“We’ve known for some time that MIF is involved in  a number of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and some cancers,” said Dr Harris from the Rheumatology Research Group, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health.

“Yet, despite over 50 years of research, exactly how MIF exerts its many reported effects has been something of a mystery.”

“Our research suggests MIF regulates specific interleukins that are highly inflammatory and are known to contribute to many inflammatory diseases including gout, inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and some rare cryopyrin-associated autoinflammatory syndromes.”

Dr Harris said this discovery has the potential to not only help us understand how MIF controls inflammation, but also enables us to reliably test potential MIF-targeting therapies, an issue that has previously hampered attempts to develop effective and safe MIF-targeting drugs.

The study also demonstrates the effectiveness of a novel small molecule MIF inhibitor developed by Professor Eric Morand through previous Monash spinoff company Cortical Pty Ltd.

The work was a collaborative effort involving researchers from Monash, the Hudson Institute of Medical Research and the University of Melbourne.