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Suppressing entire immune system unlikely to be best way to treat autoimmune diseases, new findings show

Suppressing the immune system is one way to treat autoimmune diseases, frustrating conditions in which the body's tissues are attacked by "friendly fire." But a new study shows that such blanket defenses are probably not the best way, say scientists from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

One of the immune system's soldiers, interferon-gamma, actually helps prevent tissue damage in mice given a condition similar to a heart-damaging autoimmune disease in humans, the scientists report in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Circulation.

"In treating autoimmune disease," says Noel Rose, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology at Hopkins, "it's possible that treatments that alter the immune system's overall function could make one autoimmune disease better but make a second one worse."

The scientists discovered interferon-gamma's protective role as they were trying to figure out how an immune soldier called interleukin-12 causes heart damage in this disease, known as myocarditis. Because interleukin-12 "recruits" interferon-gamma, increasing its presence in cells, the scientists suspected interferon-gamma might be involved in damaging tissue.

Unexpectedly, mice without normal interferon-gamma function had more heart damage, and mice treated with extra interferon-gamma had less damage than normal mice. Extra interferon-gamma prevented heart damage completely in seven of the 11 mice studied, says Rose, whose studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Scientists generally thought that interferon-gamma was responsible for many actions of interleukin-12, so it was surprising that the two proteins really have opposite effects in these mice," explains Marina Afanasyeva, M.D., M.P.H., a Ph.D. candidate in molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Interleukin-12 probably depends on interferon-gamma for its effects in some circumstances but not o
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Contact: Joanna Downer
jdowner1@jhmi.edu
410-614-5105
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
18-Dec-2001


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