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Cracking open the black box of autoimmune disease

almost nothing about the actual genes under Foxp3's purview.

Researchers in Richard Young's Whitehead lab, working closely with immunologist Harald von Boehmer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, used a DNA microarray technology developed by Young to scan the entire genome of T cells and locate the genes controlled by Foxp3. There were roughly 30 genes found to be directly controlled by Foxp3 and one, called Ptpn22, showed a particularly strong affinity.

"This relation was striking because Ptpn22 is strongly associated with type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Graves' disease, but the gene had not been previously linked to regulatory T-cell function," says Alexander Marson, a MD/PhD student in the Young lab and lead author on the paper. "Discovering this correlation was a big moment for us. It verified that we were on the right track for identifying autoimmune related genes."

The researchers still don't know exactly how Foxp3 enables regulatory T cells to prevent autoimmunity. But the list of the genes that Foxp3 targets provides an initial map of the circuitry of these cells, which is important for understanding how they control a healthy immune response.

"Autoimmune diseases take a tremendous toll on human health, but on a strictly molecular level, autoimmunity is a black box," says Young. "When we discover the molecular mechanisms that drive these conditions, we can migrate from treating symptoms to developing treatments for the disease itself."
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Source:Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research


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