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Scientists Discover Connection Between Autoimmunity, Infection

Update Date: Jan 09, 2017 10:00 AM EST

Autoimmune diseases have long been studied by scientists across the globe. However, the cause of these diseases is still unclear. Now, doctors may have found the possible connection between autoimmunity and infections - errors could happen when immune cells absorb certain proteins from pathogen cells.

Doctors at the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel investigated the ability of immune cells to identify proteins on the surface of neighboring cells.

In the past, it has been known that there is indeed a connection between infections and the development of autoimmune diseases. This boils down to the inability of an organism to recognize parts of the body as "self". This has led to an increase in the incidence of autoimmune diseases and it's because of increasing hygiene among people.

For other autoimmune diseases, however, they are triggered by infections. The exact mechanism of how this happens is still unclear but one explanation is that the immune system confuses protein structures from pathogens with the body's own proteins.

Based on the findings of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists believe that certain immune cells (B cells) capture not only the protein of an influenza virus but also small parts of other neighboring membrane proteins.

For instance, when an immune response is triggered toward the protein called autoantigen from the cell membrane layer in the central nervous system, it may lead to autoinflammation in the brain. When this happens, the T cells that had recognized the body's own membrane protein will be activated and can trigger an autoimmune inflammation in the brain.

"The next step would now be to examine whether similar errors occur in protein uptake by human B cells. We also want to clarify whether a viral infection in an animal can, under certain circumstances, lead to autoimmune inflammation in the brain," Tobias Derfuss, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

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