New point of focus found for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases

October 9, 2012, VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Scientists affiliated with VIB and UGent have discovered a mechanism used by the protein A20 to combat inflammation. This could be a very important point of focus in the search for a treatment for autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, in which the patient suffers from chronic, uncontrolled inflammation.

Rudi Beyaert (VIB –UGent): We hope that our research can eventually contribute to the development of new therapies against and other auto-immune conditions."

Friday 12 October is "World Arthritis Day".

A20, a protein involved in Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune conditions

RA is a chronic progressive joint condition that starts with an inflammation of the joint membrane and affects the around the joints. In Belgium, the number of RA patients is estimated at 100,000. The actual cause is unknown, but there is evidence that the immune system is disrupted, which causes the body to attack its own tissues and creates inflammation in various joints.

Rudi Beyaert and his research team previously identified the molecule A20 as an important point of focus for the development of against RA and other . A20 appears to exert an anti-inflammatory effect in .

Unraveling the details of an interaction

For the development of new medicines, it is important to fully understand the anti-inflammatory effect of A20. Previous research has demonstrated that A20 interferes with specific "signaling pathways" in our cells that stimulate the activity of a DNA binding molecule (NF-κB). NF-κB plays a key role in many immunological processes and excessive activation of NF-κB can result in a whole range of "", including arthritis. However, it is still largely unknown how A20 interferes with the activity of NF-κB.

Kelly Verhelst and other scientists in the team of Rudi Beyaert have now mapped the specific interaction between A20 and the NF-κB "". They demonstrated that a small particle (ZF7) at the end of the A20 protein binds to certain small molecules (ubiquitin chains), which are attached to specific NF-κB signaling proteins in the cell. This makes it impossible for these proteins to communicate with other proteins, thereby disrupting the signal that would normally result in inflammation.

Research impact

This is very interesting from a scientific point of view, because the VIB scientists have identified a new mechanism that brings us one step closer to the possible development of a new medicine. After all, we now know which part of A20 has an anti-inflammatory effect and how exactly this works. Rudi Beyaert: "Now that we know the importance of this small fragment (ZF7) of A20 for the anti-inflammatory effect, we can also use it as a point of focus for the development of medicines against various auto-immune diseases. This is one step closer, but we still have a long way to go."

Explore further: Defect in A20 gene expression causes rheumatoid arthritis

More information: The research was published in the leading journal The EMBO Journal (Verhelst et al., A20 inhibits LUBAC-mediated NF-κB activation by binding linear polyubiquitin chains via its zinc finger 7, )

Related Stories

Defect in A20 gene expression causes rheumatoid arthritis

August 16, 2011
Researchers from VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) and Ghent University have shown that a defective gene can contribute to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, an often-crippling inflammation of the joints that afflicts ...

Study identifies novel role for a protein that could lead to new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

May 22, 2011
A new study by rheumatologists at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York has shown that a powerful pro-inflammatory protein, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), can also suppress aspects of inflammation. The researchers say the ...

Regulatory immune cell diversity tempers autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis

May 8, 2012
Untangling the root cause of rheumatoid arthritis has been a difficult task for immunologists, as decades of research has pointed to multiple culprits in our immune system, with contradictory lines of evidence. Now, researchers ...

Recommended for you

Osteoarthritis could be treated as two diseases, scientists reveal

January 10, 2018
Scientists at The University of Manchester have discovered that most people with osteoarthritis can be subdivided into two distinct disease groups, with implications for diagnosis and drug development.

US arthritis prevalence is much higher than current estimates

November 27, 2017
New research indicates that the prevalence of arthritis in the United States has been substantially underestimated, especially among adults

Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis

November 20, 2017
Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may help to prevent the onset of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered.

Old World monkeys could be key to a new, powerful rheumatoid arthritis therapy

November 16, 2017
In the quest for a new and more effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of USC looked to a primate that mostly roams the land in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It was ...

Study lists foods for fighting rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and progression

November 8, 2017
A list of food items with proven beneficial effects on the progression and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is provided in a new study published today in Frontiers in Nutrition. The authors suggest incorporating these foods ...

Prototype equipment can detect rheumatoid arthritis

September 28, 2017
According to a first clinical study published in the scientific journal Photoacoustics, the University of Twente and various European partners have designed a device that shows the difference between healthy fingers and arthritic ...


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.