Mast cells and their proteases: future targets for asthma therapy and diagnosis

Mast cells are white blood cells that are thought of as being the main cause of the symptoms associated with allergic reactions and asthma. The cells contain secretory granules in which bioactive compounds are stored. When the cells are activated these compounds are released, causing the typical allargy symptoms such as sneezing and wheezing, with the most serious being anaphylactic shock.

The research project, which was recently funded by a large grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, focuses on proteases that are stored in the mast cells.

Microscope image of mast cells
Mast cells from rat.
Photo from Lundequist A, Pejler G.,
Cell Mol Life Sci. 2011, 68(6):965-75.

“We have preliminary results that indicate that these proteases are involved in asthma and our aim is to figure out exactly how. We hope that our findings will result in new ways to prevent or treat asthma,” says Gunnar Pejler, who heads the project.

The project group consists of several researchers from UU and SLU and Gunnar Pejler himself is employed at both universities. He explains that the collaboration has been formed to include the needed expertise on mast cells and asthma.

“The research deals with a human disease and most participants are at Uppsala University. However, we rely on Sara Wernersson’s mouse models for studying mast cells. In addition, the experiments using these models will be done at SLU.”

Bacterial infections in animals

Gunnar Pejler is also involved in other collaborative projects that have a veterinary medicine focus. A study of bovine mastitis, in collaboration with Bengt Guss and Karin Östensson at SLU, has recently been concluded. A new project, also in collaboration with Bengt Guss, focuses with the horse disease strangles.

“Strangles is caused by Streptococcus infection in the airways and it has very large economic consequences. In this project, we study virulence factor in the bacteria to identify important components that could be used to develop a vaccine. The work is based on Bengt’s and my long-term collaboration and also includes Ida Waern in my group. So far, we have very promising results,” says Gunnar Pejler.

More information:
Gunnar Pejler's web site
Bengt Guss' web site
Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation

Gunnar Pejler
Gunnar Pejler (photo: Mikael Wallerstedt)