Researchers have identified a gene that appears to be a critical factor in autoimmune disease. In a study published in the July 26 issue of Science, researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Vermont Schools of Medicine provide a unique view of the molecular defects underlying autoimmune disease.
Using molecular techniques to study the genetic material from autoimmune disease-susceptible mice, scientists were able to identify a region of the mouse chromosome, and subsequently a gene, that correlates with autoimmune disease. The gene of interest encodes a protein that functions as a receptor for histamine, a signaling molecule involved in immune responses.
Autoimmune disease, a disorder that occurs when an affected individual’s immune system launches attacks on its own tissue confusing itself as a foreign invader, is responsible for various disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Present therapies for autoimmune disease, which merely suppress the affected individual’s immune system, necessitate new and more specific treatments, said Dr. Kenneth S. K. Tung, professor of pathology at the University of Virginia and co-investigator of the study.
“Utilizing a mouse model to study autoimmune disease will have a definite impact on the understanding of human autoimmune disease as genes that cause disease in mice have been found to be concordant with autoimmune causing genes in humans,” Tung said. “The next progression of this study will be to understand the role of the histamine receptor in autoimmune disease and, more importantly, to determine whether a parallel set of events occurs in human autoimmune disease.”
The research presented in this study hopefully will prove significant not only for the understanding of autoimmune disease but also for other illnesses. “It’s becoming clear that the responses and regulatory elements that cause autoimmune disease also apply to the body’s response to cancer and tissue grafts. So if we can understand how autoimmune disease is regulated, then you can apply the same knowledge to prevent tissue graft rejection or promote cancer immunity and improve vaccine effects,” Tung said.