Chronic inflammation: How white blood cells turn against us under stress

Chronic inflammation: How white blood cells turn against us under stress

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Deciphered new causes of inflammatory processes

The immune system is usually used to ward off pathogens and foreign bodies that enter our body. Furthermore, the degradation of the body's own cellular waste is one of the tasks. An Austrian research team has now discovered that the immune system can also turn against us and cause chronic inflammation. The body's own mitochondria, which are deposited by the white blood cells, have been identified as the trigger.

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have discovered a new cause for chronic inflammation. According to the study, a stress response in white blood cells leads to the release of so-called mitochondria, which act as power plants for the cells. This release increases the tumor necrosis factor, a multifunctional signaling substance of the immune system, which favors local and systemic inflammation. The results were recently presented in the "Circulation Research" journal.

Stressed blood cells promote inflammation

The research team from Vienna identified a previously unknown way of how cells communicate and how this can lead to inflammatory processes. A stress reaction of the white blood cells leads to these processes in the study, which are regarded as triggers for many chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart diseases.

How white blood cells get stressed

As the experts at MedUni Vienna report, an unhealthy lifestyle leads to an increased production of cellular waste. This is favored by smoking, stress, poor nutrition or lack of exercise, for example. The researchers were now able to identify a previously unknown reaction of the white blood cells to this cell stress. The blood cells pinch off part of their cell membrane under stress. This contains stress mitochondria, which act as a kind of alarm signal for other cells. Compared to conventional mitochondria, these mitochondria released from stressed blood cells have a very high potential to trigger inflammation, the research team writes.

New possible therapy

"We were able to show that activated monocytes secrete special, stressed mitochondria, which, even in small amounts, have a dangerous effect on the body's own cells by making them more inflammatory," reports lead author Taras Afonyushkin in a press release on the study results. This also opens up new approaches for therapies. For example, stimulation of the immune system could be used to specifically promote the breakdown of the released mitochondria, thereby reducing their activity in the blood, or to look for ways to prevent mitochondria from being discontinued. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Mitochondria Are a subset of Extracellular Vesicles Released by Activated Monocytes and Induce Type I IFN and TNF Responses in Endothelial Cells
  • Mitochondria: when friends become enemies

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