A sugar-binding protein (galectin-1) could fuel terrible inflammation and worsen sepsis, a disease that kills more than 270,000 people every year in the US alone, reports a team of researchers led by University of Connecticut (UConn) Health in an article published online on January 4, 2021 in Nature Immunology. The article is titled “Intracellular Immune Sensing Promotes Inflammation Via Gasdermin D–Driven Release of a Lectin Alarmin” (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41590-020-00844-7). Sepsis is caused mostly by bacterial infections. The immune system runs out of controls and triggers a cytokine storm, a condition in which inflammation-causing proteins flood the blood. Organs may break down, and death often follows. Other diseases can also cause cytokine storms; medical historians believe cytokine storms were behind the lethality of the 1918-1919 flu epidemic, as well as the Black Death. Cytokine storms are also observed in patients with severe COVID-19 and are believed to be involved in death in COVID-19. A main trigger for the cytokine storms during sepsis is the overreaction of the body when it detects an infection inside the cells. When a cell detects bacteria or pieces of bacteria inside itself, it immediately activates enzymes that in turn activate a protein that pokes holes on the cell membrane from within, eventually causing the cell to burst open and spill cytokines into the bloodstream. Cytokines are alarm signals, calling in the immune system to fight the bacteria. Cytokines also make other cells more likely to burst open and sound the alarm. Usually, the system damps itself after a while and calms down, but in sepsis it spins out of control, causing more and more cells to burst and die and release even more cytokines into the bloodstream.
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