A German research team from the Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM) has become the first to identify a receptor for uric acid crystals. These crystals are responsible for the development of gout and the newly discovered receptor acts as their binding agent.
Called Clec12a, it belongs to the family of C-type lectin receptors and also plays a part in immune response control. A number of receptors found on immune system cells can detect pathogens and their activation is followed by inflammation, which in turn sets off the body´s defence mechanisms. Other receptors detect substances released after tissue damage or cell death, prompting the organism to defend itself even when the damage-causing pathogen itself remains undetected.
Professor Jurgen Ruland, leader of the research team, explained that one reason for the formation of uric acid crystals is tissue damage and they intensify the immune response. But the TUM study established that Clec12a suppresses this response instead of boosting it. It seems that the human immune system has come up with a solution to prevent excessive reaction to the uric acid crystals, Ruland added.
This is very important because immune cells can release highly toxic substances, thus endangering healthy tissue alongside pathogens, lead report author Dr Konstantin Neumann pointed out. Uric acid crystals are among the substances produced by damaged cells and they raise a red flag for the immune system. Provided that no additional indications of real infection exist, Clec12a acts as protector of the body from damage inflicted by the immune system, Neumann explained.