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Israeli scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology have found a way to “illuminate” the human immune system. This was reported by the press service of the Technion. According to them, calcium is an element that is vital for our health, but in the human body it has a much broader function. It is a “postman” that transmits signals between cells and plays an important role in the processes that control gene expression in cells of the immune system, muscle contraction, the transmission of electrical current in the nervous system, and many other critical functions of the body. Abnormal changes in calcium levels can cause various diseases, and therefore evolution has given us a complex system of calcium regulation. Professor Raz Palty has been studying for many years a central cellular process known as “depot-driven calcium entry” that serves as a calcium regulator in almost all cell types. Two proteins, STIM and Orai, play a key role in this mechanism. The STIM protein determines the level of calcium in the internal stores of the cell. When stores become empty, STIM relays this information to Orai, which opens a calcium influx channel in the cell membrane. When the regulation system fails, the clinical consequences can be catastrophic, including severe dysfunction of T cells, which are an integral part of the immune system. Since this is a very complex mechanism, scientists have so far found it difficult to study its action under normal physiological conditions. Israeli scientists presented in an article in PNAS their breakthrough in creating a technology that allows you to accurately control the mechanism of calcium intake STIM-Orai both in space and in time. "This is a new approach called photopharmacology — light-activated drugs that block the flow of calcium through the Orai channels. The researchers built a form of optical switch that allowed them to control how drugs are injected into the body, and thus influence the level, location, and timing of calcium influx into the cell through the Orai channel. Using this technology, the research team was able to modulate calcium entry into T-lymphocytes and regulate the production of cytokines, which are critical for the functioning of the immune system. In experiments, the researchers found that the STIM-Orai calcium delivery mechanism is also active when pain is experienced. This means that experiments on it can help to better understand the process of pain transmission. Future research will give scientists a deeper understanding of these regulatory mechanisms and expand the clinical applications of the technology they have developed.
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