Australian researchers have identified a new gene that plays a fundamental role in regulating the production of pro-inflammatory proteins. It's hoped the discovery of this previously unknown genetic mechanism will offer scientists exciting new pathways to treat a variety of diseases, from cancer to diabetes.

The gene is called C6orf106 (C6), and the researchers call it an, "evolutionarily-conserved inhibitor of the innate antiviral response." The specific gene is hypothesized to have existed for over 500 million years, with homologs (genes sharing the same DNA ancestry) identified in many other animal species. This suggests it plays a vital part in modulating our immune signaling pathways.

"Our immune system produces proteins called cytokines that help fortify the immune system and work to prevent viruses and other pathogens from replicating and causing disease," explains Cameron Stewart, from the CSIRO research team. "C6 regulates this process by switching off the production of certain cytokines to stop our immune response from spiraling out of control."

The discovery of this new genetic mechanism offers exciting future pathways for better understanding a variety of devastating diseases and exploring future targeted therapies. The role of C6 in regulating cytokine production plays a part, not only in the development of inflammatory disease, where the immune system presents as overactive, but also potentially in diseases such as cancer where the immune system does not successfully attack tumorous threats.

"It's exciting to consider that C6 has existed for more than 500 million years, preserved and passed down from simple organisms all the way to humans," says Rebecca Ambrose, another researcher working on the study. "But only now are we gaining insights into its importance."

Traditionally, the research team that discovers a new gene gets the privilege of naming it. In the past this has resulted in some strange gene names, including Sonic Hedgehog and Lunatic Fringe. The CSIRO team quite rightly suggests C6orf106 is not an ideal name.

"The current name, C6orf106, reflects the gene's location within the human genome, rather than relating to any particular function," says Stewart. "We think we can do better than that, and are inviting suggestions from the public."

If you're interested in suggesting a name for the new gene all the guidelines and entry conditions can be found on the CSIRO website. The website does note, however, that Gene McGeneface is not a great suggestion, and the ultimate name chosen will need to be approved by the Human Geonome Nomenclature Committee.

The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Source: CSIRO