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Could Tick Saliva Help To Improve Anti-Inflammatory Drugs?

A tick climbing on a leaf.
Credit: Erik Karits/Unsplash
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Researchers have investigated the role of proteins found in tick saliva that reduce inflammation. Their findings could one day help to fight inflammatory diseases, which cause considerable suffering worldwide. The study, led by researchers from Monash University, is published in Nature Communications.

Taking inspiration from ticks

Chronic inflammation drives many different diseases such as atherosclerosis (a buildup of fats and cholesterol in the arteries), pulmonary fibrosis (thickened and scarred lung tissue) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Proteins known as chemokines cause inflammation when they are released from cells into the affected tissues, and research is ongoing to find ways to block chemokine activity.

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In the current study, researchers turned to proteins called A3 evasins found in the saliva of ticks. After a tick latches onto its host, evasins are released to dampen inflammation, helping the parasite escape the host’s immune system to allow it to feed for longer.

“It turns out that ticks have naturally evolved the ability to block chemokine-driven inflammation, which enables them to live on their hosts for extended periods without the host being aware of them,” said Dr. Ram Bhusal, postdoctoral research fellow at Monash University and co-senior author of the study.

Evasins block the activity of several different chemokines, making them an attractive prospect for repurposing to treat inflammatory disease.

A “potential source of clinically useful anti-inflammatory proteins”

Using the 3D structures of evasins and analyzing how they bound to chemokines, the researchers created new evasin variants that were able to bind to the chemokines that drive atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bhusal described that this proof-of-principle study could pave the way for engineered evasins that could one day be used to develop better treatments for inflammation. Additionally, he explained that the roles of these tick evasins are significant as there are no anti-inflammatory drugs available that target chemokines directly.

“The tick-derived evasins represent a novel class of anti-inflammatory agents with a distinct mode of action to inhibit chemokines,” said Bhusal. “As such, they offer a fresh perspective and an alternative strategy for reducing inflammation in the body.”

The other co-senior author, Professor Martin Stone, explained that further research and development of these promising findings will require human trials. “This finding is significant because it opens up possibilities for developing a new generation of anti-inflammatory drugs,” he said. “These new drugs could improve the treatment options for patients with chronic inflammatory diseases, potentially saving lives and reducing suffering.”

Reference: Devkota SR, Aryal P, Pokhrel R, et al. Engineering broad-spectrum inhibitors of inflammatory chemokines from subclass A3 tick evasins. Nat Commun. 2023;14(1):4204. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-39879-3

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Monash University. Material has been edited for length and content.