Malibu, Los Alamos, and the NLRP3 Inflammasome

Aug 11, 2023

On the surface, the big budget Barbie blockbuster and the overly ornate Oppenheimer opus, whose combined returns shattered box office expectations, are nothing at all alike.

However, on a much, much deeper level, to where almost certainly no one else but us would ever notice, what they have in common is the NLRP3 inflammasome, shown above. The NLRP3 inflammasome involves 3 proteins that assemble to kickstart and sustain inflammation. In short doses, inflammation is helpful because it protects against infectious agents like bacteria. However, when inflammation is persistent or chronic it crosses the line from protective to harmful, from physiologic to pathologic. A common denominator of many, if not all diseases, from Alzheimer’s to atherosclerosis is chronic inflammation.

One trigger for chronic inflammation is microsized irritant particles that the immune system tries in vain to digest. (For more information on inflammation link to this review from EpicentRx authors entitled, What Exactly Is Inflammation [and What Is It Not?]) Examples of these irritant microparticles are cholesterol and uric acid crystals, and potentially plastic (see blog post Barbie: All That Plastic Is Drastic and Not Too Fantastic) and radioactive dust fallout (see blog post Oppenheimer and Radioprotection). (Radiation initiates an inflammatory response on its own, so the combination with microsized particles is a double whammy).

When Pac-Man-like immune cells called macrophages encounter these particles and unsuccessfully try to engulf them, they vomit or spill digestive enzymes and other cellular contents that damage surrounding tissues; this damage, over the long term, is responsible for dysfunction and disease. See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: When Macrophages Get Indigestion, Inflammation Results

Accordingly, then, here are some recommendations to follow for better health: 1) first and foremost, at all costs avoid nuclear war 2) don’t smoke—Oppenheimer, an inveterate chain smoker (and double martini drinker), died at the age of 62 from lung cancer 3) reduce exposure to microparticles and this includes plastic microparticles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as water bottles and Barbie dolls, of which, according to an article from the environmental organization, Greenpeace, “58 million dolls are sold every year, or about 100 dolls every minute, to people in 150 countries ” and 4) seriously reconsider any decision to watch two movies especially two movies like Barbie and Oppenheimer back-to-back—after all, 5 hours are a long time to remain sedentary, and as everyone knows, sitting is the new smoking.