Scientists have discovered a new molecule that could hold the key to treating inflammatory diseases.
The molecule, known as THRIL, forms when white blood cells called macrophages are triggered as part of the body's immune response to pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria.
Once formed, THRIL was found to play a vital role in regulating the body's immune response.
Researchers in San Diego, California, teamed up with experts from Ontario in Canada for the study.
They examined genetic material from children with Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood immune disorder that involves inflammation of the blood vessels.
The team examined levels of the THRIL molecule in youngsters with different stages of Kawasaki disease. They found that THRIL controls a gene known as TNF-alpha, which promotes inflammation.
THRIL levels were found to be at their lowest during the acute stages of the disease, when TNF-alpha levels are at their highest.
The researchers concluded that the newly discovered molecule plays an important role in healthy inflammatory immune responses, as well as being involved in the body's defence against pathogens.
They believe THRIL could potentially be a suitable target for the development of treatments against a range of other inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
The report's authors wrote: "The findings suggest that THRIL could be a novel biomarker for immune activation and a potential target for inflammatory diseases."
Lead author Dr Tariq Rana, from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Ontario, said the new study built on existing knowledge of a type of genetic material called RNA and the role it plays in the body's response to microbial threats.
Dr Rana said: "For some time we have known that non-coding regions of RNA play important roles in regulating the immune response to microbial pathogens. When we realised that THRIL functioned to control the TNF-alpha gene, we wanted to see if it mirrors the progression in inflammatory diseases."
Researchers conducted their study in collaboration with Dr Jane Burns, a professor of paediatrics at the University of California and the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.
Their findings have been published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Copyright Press Association 2013