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Case Western Reserve University

From stinging to soothing: fire ant venom may lead to skin treatments

Compounds derived from fire ant venom can reduce skin thickening and inflammation in a mouse model of psoriasis, Emory and Case Western scientists have shown.

The results were published on Sept. 11 in Scientific Reports.

Update: When this paper was published, Lab Land received an email providing anecdotal support for effectiveness in humans. “I have suffered with psoriasis all my life and in 2015, I went on an expedition to Central America. I got eaten alive by fire ants, as they managed to get into my socks. My psoriasis however got better for a time, and as somebody who has directly experienced fire ant venom, I strongly believe that there is a correlation between it and psoriasis.”

The findings could lead to new treatments for psoriasis, a common autoimmune skin disease. Topical steroids are now most frequently used for mild to moderate psoriasis, but they have side effects such as skin thinning and easy bruising.

Solenopsins are the main toxic components of fire ant venom. They chemically resemble ceramides, which are lipid-like molecules essential for maintaining for the barrier function of the skin. Ceramides can be found in many skin care products.

Ceramides can act as a double-edged sword, says lead author Jack Arbiser, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine. Under certain conditions they can be converted by cells into S1P (sphingosine-1-phosphate), an inflammatory molecule.

Arbiser and his colleagues devised two solenopsin analogs that look like ceramides, but can’t be degraded into S1P. They then tested them in a mouse model of psoriasis, applying the compounds in a one percent skin cream for 28 days. Read more

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Immunology Leave a comment