One heart. Two lungs. A single brain. The human body has a set number of organs for a reason. And the same goes for cells.
In new research from OMRF and the University of Hong Kong, scientists have discovered how a hormone helps maintain the right number of white blood cells in the immune system.
The scientists found that leptin, a hormone best known for the role it plays in metabolizing fat, also regulates a type of white blood cells known as B cells. The hormone, it seems, encourage the cells to divide and grow where more are needed and tells them to die off when there are too many.
“All cells have a suicide mechanism, sort of like a spy with a cyanide capsule in his tooth,” said OMRF’s Paul Kincade, Ph.D., who collaborated with the University of Hong Kong’s Liwei Lu, Ph.D., on the research. “When a cell starts to act out or if there are too many of that kind of cell, it ends its life.”
Preserving that balance is vital for health, said Kincade, who holds the William H. and Rita Bell Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF.
“If you get the flu and your B cells divide to handle it, that’s great. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen,” he said. “But if they keep expanding, they could take over other B cells, leaving you vulnerable to other illnesses.”
Leptin also plays a key role in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that kills about 20,000 Americans annually. As researchers learn more about the role of leptin, said Kincade, it could lead to methods of boosting normal immunity or treatments to slow down the cancer.
The research appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.