Scientists Spot Cause of Lupus, Way to Reverse It

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers think they’ve figured out what causes lupus

  • Insufficient activation of a specific immune system pathway appears to cause the body to attack itself

  • Drugs to fully activate that pathway appeared to shut down lupus in blood sample tests

THURSDAY, July 11, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Lupus is caused by a specific defect in the immune system that can be reversed, potentially curing the autoimmune disorder, a new study claims.

The disease appears to be caused by malfunctions in an immune system pathway that regulates cells’ response to environmental pollutants, bacteria and toxins.

Insufficient activation of this pathway, controlled by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), results in an overproduction of immune cells that attack the body itself rather than foreign invaders, researchers said.

By fully activating this immune system response, “we can reduce the number of these disease-causing cells,” said researcher Dr. Jaehyuk Choi, an associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“If these effects are durable, this may be a potential cure,” Choi added in a Northwestern news release.

Lupus occurs when the immune system turns on the body, causing systemic inflammation that can result in life-threatening damage to organs like the kidneys, heart and brain.

Existing treatments have focused on suppressing the immune system, which left patients vulnerable to dangerous infections.

“Up until this point, all therapy for lupus is a blunt instrument. It’s broad immunosuppression,” Choi said. “By identifying a cause for this disease, we have found a potential cure that will not have the side effects of current therapies.”

To test if this pathway drives lupus, researchers tested AHR-activating drugs on blood samples taken from lupus patients.

This treatment seemed to reprogram the lupus-causing cells into cells that might instead promote wound healing, researchers reported July 10 in the journal Nature.

“We’ve identified a fundamental imbalance in the immune responses that patients with lupus make, and we’ve defined specific mediators that can correct this imbalance to dampen the pathologic autoimmune response,” researcher Dr. Deepak Rao, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a news release.

The next step is to use this knowledge to make new treatments for lupus patients using AHR-activating drugs, researchers said.

More information

The Lupus Foundation of America has more about lupus.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, July 10, 2024

What This Means For You

Lupus patients should ask their doctors to be on the lookout for any upcoming clinical trials related to this potential new treatment for their condition.

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