Researchers at the Hadassah University Medical Center have discovered that over expression of an immune system Natural Killer (NK) cell called Neuroligin 4 can trigger cirrhosis of the liver by preventing the body from combating scarring. The Hadassah study compared blood samples from dozens of patients with cirrhosis to those of a healthy control group. "In their healthy form, the Neuroligin cells kill the scar-tissue cells," reports Prof. Rifaat Safadi, head of Hadassah's Liver Unit and this study. In the over expression scenario, he explains, "a mechanism is put into operation that keeps the cells from doing their unscarring work."
Several years ago, the same research team found that intact NK cells are good for the liver and prevent cirrhosis. The finding was published in the February 2006 issue of The Journal of Hepatology and also reported by a group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the United States. Next, Hadassah's researchers plan to investigate whether mutations of Neuroligin 4 also increase the risk of cirrhosis.
Hadasit, Hadassah's Technology Transfer Company, has already patented Neuroligin 4 in hopes of using it to develop treatments to fend off liver disease.