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Archive - Apr 22, 2011

New Hope for Treatment of Shingles

Researchers at the University of Georgia and Yale University have discovered a compound with the potential to be more effective than existing agents in treating the very painful blisters known as shingles—a condition that affects up to 30 percent of Americans, mostly elderly, and for which no specific treatment exists. Most adults remember the fever, itchy blisters, and possibly tiny scars they experienced as children when they had chickenpox, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, or VZV. Unfortunately, that memory can come back—with a vengeance—when they are older. The VZV virus from childhood chickenpox hides in the nerves, emerging most frequently in adults over the age of 60 as a blistering rash on one side of the body. The rate of complications, including nerve pain that can persist for months or years after the shingles attack is gone, also increases with age. The novel and effective anti-shingles agent called L-BHDA may change that. Rights to the shingles treatment have been licensed to Bukwang Pharmaceutical Company for preclinical investigations by the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc. and Yale University. "We need new options for medications with increased potency and specificity that can treat VZV, including strains that may be resistant to existing drugs," said medicinal chemist Dr. Chung (David) Chu, Distinguished Research Professor of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences at UGA, one of the inventors of L-BHDA. A collaboration between Dr. Chu and co-inventor Dr. Yung-Chi (Tommy) Cheng, the Henry Bronson Professor of Pharmacology at Yale, has resulted in an extensive portfolio of antiviral compounds that target such diseases as HIV, shingles, hepatitis, and cancers. Dr.

Mechanism of B Cell Differentiation Clarified

An article in the April 19, 2011 issue of Science Signaling by researchers at the RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology (RCAI) in Japan, and colleagues, has clarified for the first time the mechanism governing differentiation of B cells into antibody-producing plasma cells. The finding establishes a role for the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway in B cell differentiation, a key step toward the development of B cell-targeted drugs for treatment of autoimmune diseases and allergies. As the only cells in the body that produce antibodies, B cells play an essential role in the immune system's defense against bacteria and viruses. Differentiation of B cells into antibody-producing plasma cells is central to this role, initiating the production of antibodies whose targeted binding mechanism enables the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects. The mechanism underlying this differentiation process, however, remains unknown. To better understand this mechanism, the research group focused on the signaling of the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK), intracellular signaling molecules known to play an important role in the cell cycle and survival of immune cells. Hoping to glean insights into the role of ERKs in B cell differentiation into plasma cells, the researchers generated mice deficient in two different ERKs, ERK1 and ERK2, and studied the effect of this deficiency on the fate of B cells. What they found confirmed that ERKs are in fact essential to B cell differentiation: B cells in mice without these key molecules were unable to form plasma cells.