Signal failure …

An illustration of the mecanics of the body.
Illustration: Wolfgang Irber

We all need information if we want to gain an overview of a specific topic or to form an opinion. If the information we receive is incorrect or inaccurate, we will naturally come to false or inaccurate conclusions. In the body, information is relayed to cause desired reactions. Nerve cells, for example, send signals to muscle cells to trigger movements. The individual cells in the body communicate via electrical and biochemical processes. Illnesses can develop if these complex signalling pathways are disrupted by changes in the cells or by microorganisms that have entered the body. At FAU, scientists from a wide variety of fields of research are studying signalling pathways on the cellular and molecular level that are still far from being fully understood, and hope to create the basis for new types of treatment as a result.

When the equilibrium in the bowel is disturbed

A man in a lab coat.
Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker (Bild: Uni-Klinikum Erlangen/Michael Rabenstein)

The intestine is an important part of our immune system. Its protective layer, the intestinal epithelium, forms a barrier that decides which substances are allowed to enter the body and which are not. Essentially, it forms a protective barrier against the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut and ensures that they do not enter the body. However, scientists have discovered that intestinal flora communicate with the immune system, and interact with and influence each other. Around 70 percent of all immune cells in the human body are found in the intestinal wall under the epithelium.

A group of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker, Professor of Molecular Gastroenterology at FAU and Head of Research at the Department of Medicine 1 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen and the Collaborative Research Centre TRR241 ‘Immune-Epithelial Communication in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases’ are investigating the fundamental processes behind abnormal communication between intestinal flora, the epithelium and immune cells. Becker and his team assume that these abnormal signalling pathways contribute to the development of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (CIBD) such as Morbus Crohn or ulcerative colitis. Read more.

Finding out what is going wrong: The search for the cause of autoimmunity

A man in a lab coat.
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Krönke(Bild: FAU/Erich Matler)

The immune systems of patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) function abnormally. They not only attack potentially dangerous microorganisms or tumour cells, but also the body’s own tissue such as the joints in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. This results in symptoms ranging from painful inflammation to joint stiffness.

A team from FAU led by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Krönke from the Chair of Internal Medicine III and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) is investigating the causes of this incorrect programming of the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis as part of the PANDORA project. The team hopes to discover what causes the signalling between the immune system and the joints to malfunction. They also aim to find out how to override this incorrect programming of the immune system and the signalling pathways to develop preventive treatments or to find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Up to now, treatments can only slow down the progression of RA and relieve symptoms. ‘In the currently running clinical study called ‘Tolera’, our aim is to restore immune tolerance by using an entirely new combination of already approved medication for treating rheumatoid arthritis,’ says Krönke. Read more.

Synaptic signal complexes: Information transfer in the central nervous System

A man in front of a white background.
Prof. Dr. Ralf Enz. (Bild: Rudi Ott)

Nerve cells are involved in everything we do – not only when we move but also whenever we see, hear, think, or remember something. Nerve cells, for example, transmit sensory data from the eye or the ear to specialised centres in the brain, where these activity patterns are processed by other nerve cells and we become aware of them.

However, signal transfer in the nervous system is not as easy as in an electric circuit when you press a switch and the current starts to flow. A large number of proteins are responsible for processing signals in the nervous system and are the subject of research carried out by Prof. Dr. Ralf Enz, professor of biochemistry and medical molecular biology at FAU and his team. They are investigating the interaction between proteins in the central nervous system, for example in the retina in the eye, and the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that picks up auditory signals and passes them on to the brain. Their aim is to discover how signalling pathways work in these sensory tissues and how disruptions lead to disorders such as blindness, deafness or tinnitus. Read more.

About the author

Simone Harland has been a freelance journalist and copywriter for 25 years. She writes for magazines, companies and publishing houses and lives by the sea.

FAU research magazine friedrich

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