Immune activation by histones: plusses and minuses in inflammation.
Histones are highly cationic proteins that are essential components of the cell nucleus, interacting with DNA to form the nucleosome and regulating transcription. Histones, however, can transit from the cell nucleus during cell death and, once in an extracellular location, can serve as danger signals and activate immune cells. An article in this issue of the European Journal of Immunology [Eur. J. Immunol. 2013. 43: 3336-3342] reports that histones can activate monocyte-derived DCs via the NRLP3 inflammasome to induce the production of IL-1β. As such, histones, which can also stimulate TLRs, may drive events in the immunopathogenesis of a wide range of acute and chronic diseases marked by sterile inflammation. While the mechanism of this stimulation is not known, the positive charge of histones may provide a structural element to promote interaction with cells and activation of downstream signaling systems.
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