Not too Much and Not too Little
Anyone with lupus knows what it feels like to be out of control – your body seems to do whatever it wants with no apparent rhyme or reason. It feels that way because internally the immune system really is out of control, and scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found out one reason why.
Funded by the LRI, the TSRI team has identified a family of tiny molecules called microRNAs that regulate the immune system’s response. Mice that produce too many of these molecules develop an autoimmune syndrome like lupus while those with too few of these molecules lose their normal infection-fighting ability.
Unraveling a Crucial Process
Led by Dr. Changchun Xiao, the TSRI researchers identified a key role for the microRNAs in controlling the interaction between T cells and B cells, the armies that make up most of the immune system. B cells, which produce antibodies, usually lie in wait for a virus or bacteria, but need to be physically activated by T cells to start producing antibodies to fight them off.
Xiao and his colleagues plan to investigate methods for boosting antibody responses – to vaccines for example— as well as lowering production of autoantibodies in people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
“This finding gives us insights into immune regulation that could be very helpful in a range of medical applications, from viral vaccines to treatments for autoimmune diseases,” said Dr. Xiao. The study results are reported online in the July 2013 issue of Nature Immunology.