Immune cell death safeguards against autoimmune disease

September 6, 2012
Dr Daniel Gray and colleagues have discovered that immune cell death is an important safeguard against autoimmune diseases. Credit: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia

Researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have discovered that a pair of molecules work together to kill so-called 'self-reactive' immune cells that are programmed to attack the body's own organs. The finding is helping to explain how autoimmune diseases develop.

Dr Daniel Gray and colleagues from the institute's Molecular Genetics of Cancer division and the University of Ballarat discovered that the absence of two related proteins, called Puma and Bim, led to self-reactive accumulating and attacking many different body organs, causing illness. The research is published online today in the journal Immunity.

, such as type 1 diabetes, , and multiple sclerosis, develop when immune cells launch an attack on the body's own cells, destroying important body organs or structures. Around one in 20 Australians is affected by autoimmune conditions, most of which are with no cure.

Puma and Bim are so-called 'BH3-only' proteins that make cells die by a process called apoptosis. Defects in apoptosis proteins have been linked to many human diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.

Dr Gray said one way the body protects against autoimmune disease is by forcing most self-reactive immune cells to die during their development. "If any self-reactive cells manage to reach maturity, the body normally has a second safeguard of switching these potentially dangerous cells into an inactive state, preventing them from causing autoimmune disease," he said.

"Until now, there has been debate about how important the death of self-reactive cells is as a protection against autoimmune diseases. Our research has identified two molecules that are needed for this process. We were able to use this discovery to show that the death of self-reactive immune cells is indeed an important protection against autoimmune disease development."

Dr Gray is now collaborating with researchers who have identified human gene defects linked to the development of autoimmune conditions. "We now know that self-reactive cell death is an important protection against autoimmunity," Dr Gray said. "The next stage of our work is to discover whether defects in the cell death process cooperate with other factors to cause human autoimmune disease."

Explore further: Researcher steps closer to understand autoimmune diseases

Related Stories

Researcher steps closer to understand autoimmune diseases

March 6, 2012
Understanding why immune cells, called T-cells, attack the body is vital in the war against autoimmune diseases like diabetes. University of Alberta researcher Troy Baldwin is a step closer to understanding why the body's ...

Recommended for you

Exposure to larger air particles linked to increased risk of asthma in children

December 15, 2017
Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University report statistical evidence that children exposed to airborne coarse particulate matter—a mix of dust, sand and non-exhaust tailpipe emissions, such as tire rubber—are more ...

Bioengineers imagine the future of vaccines and immunotherapy

December 14, 2017
In the not-too-distant future, nanoparticles delivered to a cancer patient's immune cells might teach the cells to destroy tumors. A flu vaccine might look and feel like applying a small, round Band-Aid to your skin.

Immune cells turn back time to achieve memory

December 13, 2017
Memory T cells earn their name by embodying the memory of the immune system - they help the body remember what infections or vaccines someone has been exposed to. But to become memory T cells, the cells go backwards in time, ...

Steroid study sheds light on long term side effects of medicines

December 13, 2017
Fresh insights into key hormones found in commonly prescribed medicines have been discovered, providing further understanding of the medicines' side effects.

The immune cells that help tumors instead of destroying them

December 12, 2017
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-associated deaths. One of the most promising ways to treat it is by immunotherapy, a strategy that turns the patient's immune system against the tumor. In the past twenty years, ...

Cancer gene plays key role in cystic fibrosis lung infections

December 12, 2017
PTEN is best known as a tumor suppressor, a type of protein that protects cells from growing uncontrollably and becoming cancerous. But according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), PTEN has a second, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.