Ruslan Medzhitov is probably best known for the fundamental discoveries he’s made concerning the roles that the immune system’s Toll-like receptors play in controlling adaptive immunity, infections, chronic inflammation, and tumor growth. However, recently he’s turned his attention to other areas of the immune system, such as inflammation, tissue biology, and allergic reaction.
The inflammatory response protects the body from infection and injury and allows it to reestablish a homeostatic state. But inflammation also operates at a cost to other physiological functions. During inflammation the body can become more susceptible to certain diseases. Medzhitov’s research team is trying to learn more about the signals that initiate and control the process of inflammation, as well as the mechanisms responsible for inflammatory diseases.
A related area of study in the Medzhitov lab focuses on tissue biology – including tissue design principles – and the communication circuits that help to establish stable cellular communities within tissues. When these circuits become derailed, a number of degenerative, fibrotic, and neoplastic diseases can result. Of particular interest to the Medzhitov lab are the macrophages and stromal cells that reside in tissues. These two cell types, along with the microvascular endothelium, constitute universal components of vertebrate tissues.
One of the biggest puzzles in current immunology is how and why allergens induce immune responses. Medzhitov’s team is trying to solve this puzzle. Medzhitov believes that allergies are an essential defense mechanism that protects us from noxious substances. The major symptoms of allergic reactions – tears, sneezing, coughing – help expel unwanted agents from the body, while excessive activity of these defenses causes allergic diseases.
Grants from the National Institutes of Health provided partial support for these projects.