Is a warmer body better at fighting infections and tumours?

Is a warmer body better at fighting infections and tumours?

New research from the universities of Warwick and Manchester, UK, has shown that a higher body temperature speeds the body’s response to fighting infections and tumours.

It was found in the study that a slight rise in temperature and inflammation, such as a fever, speeds up a cellular ‘clock’ in which proteins switch genes on and off to respond to infections and tumours.

This discovery could lead to more effective and fast-working drugs which target a key inflammation protein found to be critical for temperature response.

A key defence system

The researchers, who included a team of mathematicians and biologists, found that the hotter the body temperature, the more the body speeds up a key defence system that fights against tumours, wounds or infections.

Biologists found that inflammatory signals activate ‘Nuclear Factor kappa B’ (NF-κB) proteins to start a ‘clock’ ticking, in which NF-κB proteins move backwards and forwards into and out of the cell nucleus, where they switch genes on and off.

This allows cells to respond to a tumour, wound or infection. When NF-κB is uncontrolled, it is associated with inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Calculating temperature increase

It was found that at a body temperature of 34 degrees, the NF-kB clock slows down, while at a higher temperature than the normal 37-degree body temperature (such as in fever, 40 degrees), the NF-kB clock speeds up.

Dr Claire Harper, experimental biologist from the University of Manchester, said: “The change in timing was very large, changing from ticking every 120 minutes at 34 degrees to every 80 minutes at 40 degrees.”

The mathematical element

Mathematicians at the University of Warwick’s Systems Biology Centre calculated how temperature increases make the cycle speed up.

They predicted that a protein called A20, which is essential to avoid inflammatory disease, might be critically involved in this process. The experimentalists then removed A20 from cells and found that the NF-kB clock lost its sensitivity to increases in temperature.

Lead mathematician Professor David Rand, professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, said: “The lower body temperature during sleep might provide a fascinating explanation into how shift work, jet lag or sleep disorders cause increased inflammatory disease.”

How body temperature affects our health

Professor Mike White, lead biologist from Manchester University, said: “We have known for some time that influenza and cold epidemics tend to be worse in the winter when temperatures are cooler.

“Also, mice living at higher temperatures suffer less from inflammation and cancer. These changes may now be explained by altered immune responses at different temperatures.”

Press release: University of Warwick

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