Small Rises in Temperature Helps Body Fight Tumors and Infections Better

A multidisciplinary team of biologists and mathematicians from the Universities of Warwick and Manchester has found that small rises in the body temperature speeds up a key defense system that fights infections, wounds and tumors.

The researchers discovered that ‘Nuclear Factor kappa B’ (NF-κB) proteins get activated by inflammatory signals. These activated proteins make a cellular clock to go ticking, whereby NF-κB proteins start moving back and forth into and out of the cell nucleus to switch genes on and off. This enables cells to respond to a wound, infection or tumor. If NF-κB clock is uncontrolled, it is linked with inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease.

The NF-κB clock slows down at 34 degree body temperature, and speeds up at temperatures higher than the normal 37 degree. The mathematicians calculated the mechanism behind this. They assumed that a protein called A20, which plays a role in preventing inflammatory diseases, might be significantly involved in this process. The researchers removed this protein from the cells, and found that the sensitivity of NF-kB to increases in temperature was lost.

Temperature did not affect the activities of many NF-kB controlled genes, however, an important group of genes displayed altered profiles at varied temperatures. These temperature sensitive genes included cell communication controllers and inflammatory regulators that can alter cell responses.

The study’s implication is that, body temperature changes manipulate cell- and tissue- inflammation in a biologically organized manner. So, now we know why cold epidemics and influenza get worse during winters when the temperatures go down, and why mice living at higher temperatures are less affected by cancer and inflammation. This new understanding suggests that fast-working and effective drugs should be produced to target the A20 protein to more precisely alter the inflammatory response.

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