A new study funded largely by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) reveals that people diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) — an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own tissues — have autoantibodies in their blood years before the symptoms of lupus appear. The early detection of autoantibodies — proteins that attach to the bodys healthy tissues by mistake — may help in recognizing those who will develop the disease and allow physicians to monitor them before they might otherwise be noticed.
Senior author John Harley, M.D., Ph.D., of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the University of Oklahoma, and his colleagues there and in other institutions, tested blood from 130 U.S. armed forces servicemen and women, without knowing their identities, who were once healthy but later developed lupus. Using many years of previously collected samples from the Department of Defense Serum Repository, the researchers compared samples from the lupus patients to samples from those who never developed lupus. When testing early samples from both groups, they found that those with lupus had the autoantibodies in their blood for months to years before symptoms appeared. Some of the autoantibodies, such as antinuclear antibody, had been present longer than others. The lupus autoantibodies, say the authors, tend to accumulate in the blood in a predictable pattern up until diagnosis, when the rate of new autoantibodies slows.
"We dont know whether the virtual halt in the accumulation of new autoantibodies is a result of therapy now typically used or whether the relative stability in the autoantibodies found after diagnosis is a feature of the natural history of lupus," said Dr. Harley. "Certainly, this observation reminds us of how important diagnosis is for what subsequently happens in the immune system of the patient."
Ray Fleming | NIAMS
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