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New pathways for autoimmune treatment identified

A rare genetic defect that can trigger a host of diseases from type 1 diabetes to alopecia has helped explain the imbalance of immune regulator and killer cells in autoimmune disease.

Mutation in the Aire gene causes APS1, a disease causing two out of three problems ?an underactive parathyroid, yeast infection of the skin and/or mucous membrane and adrenal gland insufficiency ?by age 5 and up to 16 autoimmune diseases over a lifetime.

The same mutation causes a defect in iNKT cells, a type of regulatory cell that helps the immune system fight infections while suppressing errant T cells bent on attacking the body, Medical College of Georgia researchers say.

This finding opens new pathways for treating or preventing APS1, or autoimmune polyglandular syndrome type 1, and potentially other autoimmune diseases as well, researchers report in the June issue of Nature Medicine.

"The body should maintain a balance between killing and suppression," says Dr. Qing-Sheng Mi, immunologist and lead and co-senior author. "If you are killing too hard, it can induce autoimmune disease. If you regulate suppression too hard, you can get cancer. iNKT cells help maintain a healthy balance. But patients with autoimmune disease may not have enough functional iNKT cells."

"Aire controls the development and function of iNKT cells," says Drs. Jin-Xiong She, director of the MCG Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine and co-senior author. "This relationship means that iNKT cells are critical to most autoimmune diseases and manipulating the iNKT cell population is one possible way to cure autoimmune disease."

A lipid purified from sea plants, called alpha-GalCer, is already under study as a way to boost iNKT cell numbers and fight autoimmune disease as well as cancer. iNKT cells' reactivity to alpha-GalCer, prompted the scientists to use it as a marker to examine the status of these cells in a mo
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Source:Medical College of Georgia


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