Could Gut Bacteria Play a Role in Autoimmune Disease?

Jun 20, 2017 11:00 AM

Author: June Round

Autoimmune diseases, such as type-1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, are on the rise and stem from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Researchers now believe that bacteria in your gut may also play an important role in these debilitating illnesses.

June Round, Ph.D., associate professor in pathology at the University of Utah Health, studies how intestinal bacteria affect health. Think of gut bacteria as living in a community. These bacteria “talk” to the immune system using chemical signals. In a study published in a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Round and her team examined how gut bacterial products can escape the gastrointestinal system and move throughout the body to induce a host factor, called erythroid differentiation factor 1 (Erdr1). In a mouse study, the researchers found that Erdr1 controls the concentration of T-cells, white blood cells that help build the immune system in the body. The two molecules move in a seesaw pattern. When the concentration of Erdr1 is low, the concentration of T-cells is high.

June Round, PhD

A reduction in Erdr1 promoted the survival of T-cells, reducing the impact of disease on the human body. When the concentration of Erdr1 is too low, the higher concentration of T-cells can lead to inflammation, which triggers an autoimmune response. The researchers tested this in a mouse model that mimics multiple sclerosis symptoms in the animals. By controlling the concentration of Erdr1, they were able to lessen multiple sclerosis-like symptoms in the mice. While the work is preliminary, the results suggest that Erdr1 could be a viable target for developing new therapies for various autoimmune diseases.

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