Scientists Unlock The Why And How Of An Age-Old Treatment

SC CTSI-supported study develops anti-inflammatory lipids as a cancer therapeutic.

February 21, 2013

Note: The follow-up study, developing anti-inflammatory lipids as a cancer therapeutic, is being supported by the SC CTSI Pilot Award program.

A team from USC and Harvard University has uncovered a key biological mechanism that makes aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids effective at reducing inflammation.

Doctors have long prescribed aspirin together with a diet rich in omega-3s as a way to reduce inflammation caused by the body’s own immune system, which can exacerbate heart disease, lung and kidney disease, as well as arthritis and cancer, among other ailments. Thanks to research led by Nicos Petasis of USC and Charles Serhan of Harvard, now they know why.

Nicos Petasis, PhD

Studying inflammation in mice, the team determined that aspirin triggers the production of a new form of molecules called resolvins, which are naturally made by the body from omega-3 fatty acids to shut off inflammation. In particular, Serhan found that one type of resolvin — resolvin D3 — lingers at the site of inflammation, suggesting that it plays a particular role in helping to conclude this immune process. After making its discovery, the team explored the structure of resolvin D3 to better understand why and how it works to shut off inflammation.

“Aspirin is able to modify an inflammatory enzyme to stop forming molecules that propagate inflammation and instead produce molecules from omega-3 fatty acids, like resolvin D3, that help inflammation to end,” said Petasis, professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, with joint appointments at the USC School of Pharmacy and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We were able to produce by chemical synthesis both resolvin D3 and aspirin-triggered resolvin D3 in pure form that allowed us to establish their complete structures and biological activities.”


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