Glucose plays an important role in fighting cancer and inflammatory disease. It apparently triggers cells of the immune system to combat tumours and infection, according to the new study conducted by researchers from Trinity College Dublin. The paper is published in Nature Communications.
Glucose is obtained from the food that we consume, and is used to generate energy which fuels our cellular activities. For instance, brain and muscle cells need glucose to function properly. Cells of the immune system will also need a large amount of glucose when they are activated during an immune response—when the demand for the sugar is met, the cells are able to combat diseases while the opposite is thought to bring about disastrous consequences; previous research purports that when the cells of the immune system are starved from glucose, they are unable to carry out their regular functions.
However, the new study demonstrates that immune cells (called dendritic cells) responsible for monitoring signs of danger become better at mounting an immune response when they are starved—they are able to better stimulate cells known as T lymphocytes which, in turn, combat disease.
Glucose is an important signalling molecule of the immune system, explains lead author David Finlay. According to him, the behaviour of cells supplied with glucose is different from that of those which do not have access to the sugar. As such, dendritic cells become better at triggering immune responses when glucose is lacking, which is the opposite of other types of immune cells.
The team found that T cells and dendritic cells compete with each other for glucose, a discovery that can help researchers dig deeper into the pathway behind the regulation of dendritic cell function by glucose.
Finlay says that a better grasp of the way nutrients influence the immune system might pave the way to new therapies to treat immune-related diseases.