A person’s genetic makeup plays a role in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis that develop when the body is attacked by its own immune system. But little is known about how immune cells are pushed into overdrive.
Now, in new research that points to potential therapeutic targets for autoimmune diseases, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified genetic master switches that turn up – or down – the activity of specific types of immune cells.
Surprisingly, the regions of DNA that make up these master switches include numerous genetic variants linked to a range of autoimmune diseases, the researchers found.
The study is available online in Cell.
“These regions of DNA typically act like master dimmer switches on the activity of these immune cells,” said Eugene Oltz, professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University and co-senior author on the study. “In some cases, individual variations in a person’s DNA probably tweak the settings of these switches upward, leading to overactivation of the immune cells and autoimmune disease.”
Oltz and co-senior author Marco Colonna, MD, the Robert Rock Belliveau, MD, Professor of Pathology at Washington University, did not originally set out to link genetic variants associated with autoimmune diseases to these switches in immune cells. They were trying to understand how two different types of immune cells could play the same role in fighting pathogens.
The featured article was originally published at Washington University’s School of Medicine New clues found to immune system’s misfiring in autoimmune diseases