Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Autoimmune disease triggered if T cells miss a single protein early on

Scientists have discovered that autoimmunity can be triggered in the thymus, where the immune system's T cells develop, if T cells fail to recognize just one of the body's thousands of proteins as "self."

The research confirms an emerging view that autoimmunity can start in this cradle of the immune system, and not only at the sites where autoimmune diseases emerge, such as the pancreas in the case of type 1 diabetes, or the joints in rheumatoid arthritis.

The discovery, from a mouse model of a human autoimmune condition, suggests that effective strategies to treat autoimmune disease should target not only the "peripheral" sites where autoimmune disease is active, but also the thymus -- the organ where T cells and self-proteins, or self-antigens, first interact.

The research was led by investigators at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). It was published online November 20 by the Journal of Experimental Medicine and will appear in the journal's print edition November 27.

T cell soldiers encounter the body's full array of proteins in the thymus, and those T cells with receptors that recognize "self" proteins, or antigens, normally are purged to avoid autoimmune attacks in the body later on. The new research showed that if just one of the body's antigens is not recognized as "self," this single failure can lead to a severe autoimmune disease in the retina.

"The thymus is like a filter," said Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the UCSF Diabetes Center, and senior author of a scientific paper describing the discovery. "It is removing or pulling out autoreactive T cells. What this new study shows is if just one self-antigen is missing as the T cells go through the filter, it looks like this alone can lead to an autoimmune disease."

"The finding supports the promise of treatments targeting individual body proteins or antigens since we have shown that a single self-antigen can trigger disease," he added.

A similar mechanism may be at play involving other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Anderson said. Immunologists have demonstrated that insulin is expressed in the thymus – not just in the pancreas. Studies have shown that people who are protected from diabetes express high levels of insulin in the thymus, while those who are predisposed express lower levels of insulin in this organ.

"What we think is that 'more is better' in the thymus," Anderson says. "If you have more insulin in the thymus, then there is a better chance that potentially destructive insulin-specific T cells will encounter insulin as self and be filtered out."

In the thymus, immature T cells display on their surface many thousands of unique receptors, generated by random gene rearrangements. This strategy allows the receptors to recognize the tremendous diversity of invading pathogens. In the process, however, they also develop receptors that bind to the body's own proteins. These T cells are normally eliminated, avoiding the plague of autoimmunity.

A clue to how the elimination process is controlled came from previous work involving a protein in the cell nucleus called Aire (for autoimmune regulator), which regulates the expression of some 300 to 1,000 antigens in the thymus. Humans and mice lacking the normal Aire gene suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases including diseases that target the thyroid, adrenal, ovary, and eye.

In 2002, Anderson, then at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues there demonstrated that knocking out the Aire gene in the mouse thymus led to failures of expression of a number of genes in peripheral tissues, resulting in autoimmune diseases in those tissues -- the first direct evidence linking gene knockouts in the thymus to autoimmune defects in body tissues. The study, however, did not link a specific organ autoimmune attack with a specific protein missing in the thymus.

In the new study, the researchers carried out a detailed analysis of the autoimmune attack that is directed against the eye in Aire-deficient mice. What the team found was that the immune system was mainly targeting a single eye protein called IRBP despite the fact that several eye-specific proteins were missing in the thymus of Aire knockout mice. The team then went on to show that IRBP was expressed in the thymus under the control of Aire and that knockout mice lacking the IRBP protein were protected from the disease because they don't express the protein that the immune system is targeting.

In a key, final part of the new study, Anderson and his colleagues showed that if mice without a thymus gland – so-called "nude" mice – received a normal thymus lacking only IRBP, they developed the autoimmune eye disease. The autoimmune attack occurred even though the mice had normally functioning IRBP in their retinas. The final finding demonstrated that failure of T cells in the thymus to recognize IRBP as a self-protein was sufficient to cause the autoimmune disorder in the retina.

The scientists hope that better understanding of interactions in the thymus can lead to earlier, more effective treatment of autoimmune diseases.

"When we see autoimmune disease in the clinic, we are usually looking at it in a relatively late stage. Tissue is already damaged, antigen expression is ramped up and the immune response is spreading to other self-antigens," Anderson said. "If we can also train our focus on the thymus, where we know at least some of the autoimmune disease is triggered, we may be able to determine just what self-antigens are important and shut down the autoimmune process targeting those self -antigens."

The team is collaborating with Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, director of the UCSF Diabetes Center, in preclinical studies to see if T cell autoimmune attacks on IRBP can be modulated to prevent the autoimmune eye disease.

Wallace Ravven | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Make way for the mini flying machines
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

nachricht New 4-D printer could reshape the world we live in
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>