Analysing the eosinophil cationic protein - a clue to the function of the eosinophil granulocyte
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Eosinophil granulocytes reside in respiratory mucosa including lungs, in the gastro-intestinal tract, and in lymphocyte associated organs, the thymus, lymph nodes and the spleen. In parasitic infections, atopic diseases such as atopic dermatitis and asthma, the numbers of the circulating eosinophils are frequently elevated. In conditions such as Hypereosinophilic Syndrome (HES) circulating eosinophil levels are even further raised. Although, eosinophils were identified more than hundred years ago, their roles in homeostasis and in disease still remain unclear. The most prominent feature of the eosinophils are their large secondary granules, each containing four basic proteins, the best known being the eosinophil cationic protein (ECP). This protein has been developed as a marker for eosinophilic disease and quantified in biological fluids including serum, bronchoalveolar lavage and nasal secretions. Elevated ECP levels are found in T helper lymphocyte type 2 (atopic) diseases such as allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis but also occasionally in other diseases such as bacterial sinusitis. ECP is a ribonuclease which has been attributed with cytotoxic, neurotoxic, fibrosis promoting and immune-regulatory functions. ECP regulates mucosal and immune cells and may directly act against helminth, bacterial and viral infections. The levels of ECP measured in disease in combination with the catalogue of known functions of the protein and its polymorphisms presented here will build a foundation for further speculations of the role of ECP, and ultimately the role of the eosinophil.