Long-suspected cause of lupus ruled out

By By Lisa Cantkier | December 18, 2015 7:57 pm

Affecting an estimated 3 million people in the United States, lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease. The disease is hallmarked by the immune system’s production of antibodies, which cause damage and inflammation to tissues. Lupus can affect any part of the body, such as a patient’s skin, joints, blood vessels and organs. Left untreated, lupus can lead to serious health complications and even cause death. The cause of lupus has been unknown.

Researchers have suspected for quite some time that a specific set of immune cells could be the cause of lupus in patients, but clear evidence of this had not been found over the years, until now.

A team of researchers at Virginia Tech recently discovered that plasmacytoid dendritic cells (immune cells, also known as pDCs) do not contribute to late-stage lupus in mice. The pDCs release interferon alpha (IFN-α), a type of protein. It’s been theorized that the exposure to this specific protein is the direct cause of lupus.

The researchers at Virginia Tech studied mice with lupus and found pDCs do not contribute to lupus. “Our results suggest that pDCs do not function the same throughout the disease course and lose the ability to produce IFN-α in late-stage lupus mice.”

“We answered the question that people have been wondering for many years: do these cells actually contribute to disease?” Xin Luo, the lead researcher said. “Our data strongly suggests that, in patients who already have lupus, pDCs don’t contribute to disease anymore. The damage is already done.”

The discovery was published in the Journal of Immunology and is an important finding with respect to better understanding lupus and future research.

To read more about the study, click here: http://www.jimmunol.org/content/early/2015/10/06/jimmunol.1501157.abstract[1]

Endnotes:
  1. http://www.jimmunol.org/content/early/2015/10/06/jimmunol.1501157.abstract: http://www.jimmunol.org/content/early/2015/10/06/jimmunol.1501157.abstract

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