June 29, 2017
Could Oyster Mushrooms Hold The Key To Autoimmune Disease Treatments?

Scientists say that the oyster mushroom, an edible mushroom known scientifically as the Pleurotus ostreatu, may provide invaluable insight into our own immune cells and potentially help scientists develop new treatments for autoimmune diseases. The breakthrough research from oyster mushrooms couldn't come at a better time. Currently, about 50 million Americans suffer from one of between 80 and 100 different autoimmune diseases, which are chronic and can be life threatening, according to statistics provided by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). One of the leading causes of death in female children is reportedly autoimmune disease, and the current common treatment for these diseases, immunosuppressant treatments, can bring about "devastating long-term side effects," according to the AARDA. Autoimmune disease is a major health problem in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health.

The oyster mushroom, as it turns out, defends itself against pests using a "hole-punching protein" that happens to be just like one that is used by our own immune systems, according to a report about the mushrooms on Futurity. A new report, published this month about oyster mushrooms in the journal PLOS Biology, stated that a research team led by Dr. Michelle Dunstone from Monash University and Professor Helen Saibil from Birbeck College witnessed exactly how the oyster mushroom goes about the process. The researchers feel that being able to actually visualize the process significantly assists scientists in understanding the process at work within human beings by a similar protein.
"These proteins are able to insert into the plasma membranes of target cells, creating large pores that short circuit the natural separation between the intracellular and extracellular milieu, with catastrophic results."
The researchers used X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to capture the hole-punching mechanism used by the oyster mushroom."I never believed I'd be able to see these proteins in action," Dr. Dunstone explained, according to Medical News Today.
"It's an amazing mechanism, and also amazing that we now have the technology to see these hole-punching proteins at work."
Humans have a protein called perforin which behaves in the same way the protein in oyster mushrooms behave. The research only opens the door to new treatments, according to ABC Science, but scientists finally have a strategy for developing new drugs that could stop the hole-punching proteins from attacking the body in cases of autoimmune disease and over-zealous immune responses sometimes found in other diseases.

[Photo by Aaron Sherman]