Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), have discovered initial evidence in a mice study that skeletal muscles aid the immune system in functioning well in the case of chronic diseases.
"If the T-cells, which actively fight the infection, lose their full functionality through continuous stimulation, the precursor cells can migrate from the muscles and develop into functional T-cells. This enables the immune system to fight the virus continuously over a long period," said Jingxia Wu, lead author of the study.
Process Largely Unexplained
In many cases, severe weight loss and a decrease in muscle mass are the result of cancer or dangerous infections. In addition to this process known as cachexia, patients often suffer from a weakened immune system. One of the reasons for this is a loss of function of a group of T-cells, whose task it is to recognize and kill virus-infected cells or cancer cells.
The processes leading to loss of T-cell activity are still largely unexplained. However, first indications suggest that there is a connection with cachexia. "It is known that T-cells are involved in the loss of skeletal muscle mass. But whether and how, in turn, skeletal muscles influence the function of the T-cells is still unclear," explains Guoliang Cui from the DKFZ.
Infecting Mice With A Disease
To find out, the scientists infected mice with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). This method is a widely used model system to study the course of acute or chronic infections in mice. The researchers then analysed the gene expression in the skeletal muscles of the animals and found that in chronic infections, the muscle cells release an increased amount of the messenger substance interleukin-15. This cytokine causes T-cell precursors to settle in the skeletal muscles. As a result, they are spatially delimited and protected from contact with the chronic inflammation.
So could regular training strengthen the immune system? "In our study, mice with more muscle mass were better able to cope with chronic viral infection than those whose muscles were weaker. But whether the results can be transferred to humans, future experiments will have to show," explains Guoliang Cui.
(With inputs from agencies)