Breakthrough In Understanding Basic Error of Lupus Immune System

California Researcher Publishes Discovery in Top Scientific Journal, <em>Nature</em>

Just one year after winning a Novel Research Grant from the Lupus Research Institute, University of California at Berkeley scientist Gregory Barton, PhD, has documented a key discovery in lupus immunology that has potential to lead to new therapies.

With his 2007 grant, Dr. Barton has discovered a new checkpoint that prevents the immune system from making a basic error and attacking its own tissues.

“Our findings are exciting because they reveal an entirely new pathway that controls the balance between immunity and autoimmunity,” Dr. Barton said. “Of course it’s early, but we can’t help but be excited about the therapeutic potential of this discovery for treating diseases like lupus.”

The Discovery

Normal immune systems are smart about distinguishing those blueprints inside each of our cells-our DNA and RNA-from that of foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

But in lupus, the immune system makes a basic error and attacks its own DNA and RNA.

Tantalizing research over the past few years has indicated that proteins called Toll-Like Receptors (TLRs-specifically, TLR7 and TLR9-may be to blame for these cases of misidentification and attack.

In the December 2008 Nature article Dr. Barton shows that specialized proteins called “proteases” are needed to control the activity of TLR7s and TLR9s.

“In a very brief period of time,” said LRI President Margaret Dowd, “Dr. Barton took an LRI Novel Research Grant and was able to make a critical new insight that opens up the potential for preventing a key component of the lupus immune system's misdirected attack on DNA and RNA. It’s just the kind of pioneering and innovative research that is moving very rapidly to making a significant difference in the lives of people with this devastating disease.”