Chemokines are small chemoattractant cytokines that control a wide variety of biological and pathological processes, ranging from immunosurveillance to inflammation, and from viral infection to cancer. Genetic and pharmacological studies have shown that chemokines are responsible for the excessive recruitment of leucocytes to inflammatory sites and damaged tissue. In the present paper, we discuss the rationale behind interfering with the chemokine system and introduce various points for therapeutic intervention using either protein-based or small-molecule inhibitors. Unlike other cytokines, chemokines signal via seven-transmembrane GPCRs (G-protein-coupled receptors), which are favoured targets by the pharmaceutical industry, and, as such, they are the first cytokines for which small-molecule-receptor antagonists have been developed. In addition to the high-affinity receptor interaction, chemokines have an in vivo requirement to bind to GAGs (glycosaminoglycans) in order to mediate directional cell migration. Prevention of the GAG interaction has been shown to be a viable therapeutic strategy. Targeting chemokine intracellular signalling pathways offers an alternative small-molecule approach. One of the key signalling targets downstream of a variety of chemokine receptors identified to date is PI3Kγ (phosphoinositide 3-kinase γ), a member of the class I PI3K family. Thus the chemokine system offers many potential entry points for innovative anti-inflammatory therapies for autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and allergic contact dermatitis.

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