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

Noninvasive brain tumor biopsy on the horizon

April 26, 2018
Taking a biopsy of a brain tumor is a complicated and invasive surgical process, but a team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is developing a way that allows them to detect tumor biomarkers through a simple ...

Lab-on-a-chip delivers critical immunity data for vulnerable populations

April 25, 2018
For millions of displaced people around the world—many of them refugees, living in temporary shelters under crowded conditions—an outbreak of disease is devastating. Each year, the measles virus kills more than 134,000 ...

Want new medicines? You need fundamental research

April 25, 2018
Would we be wise to prioritize "shovel-ready" science over curiosity-driven, fundamental research programs? Would that set the stage for the discovery of more new medicines over the long term?

Implantable islet cells come with their own oxygen supply

April 25, 2018
Since the 1960s, researchers have been interested in the possibility of treating type 1 diabetes by transplanting islet cells—the pancreatic cells that are responsible for producing insulin when blood glucose concentration ...

'Incompatible' donor stem cells cure adult sickle cell patients

April 25, 2018
Doctors at the University of Illinois Hospital have cured seven adult patients of sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder primarily affecting the black community, using stem cells from donors previously thought to ...

Research explains link between exercise and appetite loss

April 24, 2018
Ever wonder why intense exercise temporarily curbs your appetite? In research described in today's issue of PLOS Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers reveal that the answer is all in your head—more specifically, ...

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.