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School of Medicine Columbia

Mitzi Nagarkatti leads team studying ARDS

In a paper published recently in mBio, Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D., chair of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia’s Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, and her team of investigators report findings that suggests an indole, 13C, can suppress ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), by activating a unique molecule called aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Currently, there are no FDA-approved pharmacological treatments for ARDS.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is triggered by severe inflammation resulting in respiratory failure that can be triggered by a variety of infections, both bacterial and viral. Those infections may include pneumonia, sepsis, trauma and COVID-19. Due to the lack of therapies to treat ARDS, the condition is fatal in almost 40 percent of patients who suffer from the respiratory condition.

“We are excited by our findings that the use of an indole known as I3C, found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, can suppress ARDS by activating a unique molecule called aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR),” Dr. Nagarkatti says. “Our studies also form the basis for developing new therapeutics to treat this deadly disease affecting the lungs.

“We also identified a unique cell known as Th22 which plays a critical role in suppressing inflammation in the lungs. Thus, activating these cells using other approaches may also be used to treat lung injury.”

The receptor AhR has been shown to regulate inflammation, however, its role in ARDS is unclear. Nagarkatti and her team provide evidence in their study that the activation of AhR can reduce ARDS through the activation of Th22 cells in the lungs, thus summarizing that AhR can be targeted for ARDS treatment. 

Nagarkatti has broad-based research interests in the areas of inflammation, cancer immunology and immunotherapy, biodefense, immunopharmacology, immunotoxicology, as well as complementary and alternative medicine.


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