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New research identifies anti-viral protein that may predict who might be at risk to develop lupus

y also confuse the immune system so that it doesnt know self from non-self anymore turning and attacking its own tissue as in SLE.

As far back as the 1970s, doctors had known that a characteristic of patients with SLE, who are mainly women in their childbearing years, was an abnormally high blood level of interferon-alpha. However, they didnt know if the high interferon levels were the cause of the disease or just an associated side-effect.

A role for interferon-alpha in lupus has been suggested for a number of years, says Dr. Crow, who is also director of the Autoimmunity and Inflammation Research Program and co-director of the Mary Kirkland Center for Lupus Research at Hospital for Special Surgery. However, all of the studies to date had focused on how the levels of interferon-alpha were controlled and what the effects of such high levels were. The real question was whether interferon-alpha was playing a primary role in the disease or not.

The blood samples showed that some family members of patients with high levels of interferon-alpha also had higher levels than unrelated healthy individuals, irrespective of their ethnic background. This observation supported the idea that high interferon-alpha levels play an important primary role in the disease.

Next, the researchers examined the samples for two types of autoantibodies common to SLE patients. SLE patients with low levels of interferon-alpha were more likely to have neither of the characteristic autoantibodies, while patients with the highest levels were more likely to have both. However the healthy family members with high interferon-alpha did not have either autoantibody. This led the scientists to propose a two-hit model for the development of lupus. Genetics that cause high levels of interferon-alpha may predispose a person to SLE, but the disease appears only when something else, perhaps an environmental factor, pushes the immune system to the breaking point and
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Contact: Tracy Hickenbottom
hickenbottomt@hss.edu
212-606-1197
Hospital for Special Surgery
27-Jul-2007


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