Scientists prove link between viral infection and autoimmune disease

October 17, 2014 by David Stacey, University of Western Australia
Scientists prove link between viral infection and autoimmune disease

Common viral infections can pave the way to autoimmune disease, Australian scientists have revealed in breakthrough research published internationally today.

Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti, from The University of Western Australia and the Lions Eye Institute, said the research proved a link between and autoimmune disease.

"This is a very significant discovery because we now know more about the pathways that lead to disease," Professor Degli-Esposti said.

Published in the leading journal Immunity, the Australian research found that chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection could lead to the development of Sjogren's (SHOW-grins) syndrome.

CMV - a member of the herpes family - is a common viral infection that causes mild flu-like symptoms in healthy people but can lead to more serious illness in those with compromised immune systems.

Between 50 and 80 per cent of people in developed countries are infected with CMV.  Although normally innocuous, given the right genetic background, chronic viral infection with CMV can trigger autoimmunity.

"Sjogren's syndrome (SS) is the second most common autoimmune disease in humans, affecting up to three per cent of the population or more than four million people in the United States alone," Professor Degli-Esposti said.

"It affects the function of salivary and lacrimal glands and leads to a debilitating disease characterised by the loss of saliva and tear production."

Overwhelmingly, it is a disease suffered by women, with most symptoms of the disorder emerging in the 40 to 60 year age group.

There are two forms - primary Sjogren's syndrome, defined as a dry eye and mouth that occurs by itself - and secondary Sjogren's syndrome, with the same symptoms occurring in those with a major underlying disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus.

"In our model of SS we have been able to dissect the exact cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to the development of this common autoimmune disease," Professor Degli-Esposti said.

"We have now gained critical insights into the pathways that need to be targeted to provide improved treatments for a common and debilitating human condition."

Professor Degli-Esposti said this new research was highly significant because it had identified a cause of SS, and in doing so, demonstrated a novel, unknown function of an immune cell population.

"Up until now, research in this area has been speculative and animal models have been extremely limited," she said.

"This research gives us new understanding and offers the hope of improved and better targeted therapeutic treatments into the future."

Explore further: Common treatment of certain autoimmune disease does not appear effective

Related Stories

Common treatment of certain autoimmune disease does not appear effective

July 15, 2014
Among patients with the systemic autoimmune disease primary Sjögren syndrome, use of hydroxychloroquine, the most frequently prescribed treatment for the disorder, did not improve symptoms during 24 weeks of treatment compared ...

Researchers find six new Sjogren's syndrome genes

October 6, 2013
With the completion of the first genome-wide association study for Sjögren's syndrome, an international coalition of researchers led by scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has identified six new disease-related ...

People with leukaemia are more prone to infection – but not from one particular herpes virus

March 19, 2014
People with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) are essentially more prone to infections such as varicella, influenza or pneumococci due to the reduction in the number of antibodies that their condition causes. Researchers ...

Common virus may cause anemia in patients with kidney disease

April 10, 2014
A virus that is present in most people in a latent state may induce or exacerbate anemia in patients with kidney disease, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology ...

New vaccine hope for leading viral cause of birth defects

April 10, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Experts in infection and immunity have made a path-finding discovery that could lead to the development of a vaccine for a health-ravaging virus that affects around 50% of adults in the UK.

Recommended for you

Gene plays critical role in noise-induced deafness

October 19, 2018
In experiments using mice, a team of UC San Francisco researchers has discovered a gene that plays an essential role in noise-induced deafness. Remarkably, by administering an experimental chemical—identified in a separate ...

Functional engineered oesophagus could pave way for clinical trials 

October 18, 2018
The world's first functional oesophagus engineered from stem cells has been grown and successfully transplanted into mice, as part of a pioneering new study led by UCL.

New findings cast light on lymphatic system, key player in human health

October 16, 2018
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have broken new ground in understanding how the lymphatic system works, potentially opening the door for future therapies.

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Age-related increase in estrogen may cause common men's hernia

October 16, 2018
An age-related increase in estrogen may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias, a condition common among elderly men that often requires corrective surgery, according to a Northwestern Medicine study was published Oct. 15 ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

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.