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April 26, 2019

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Researchers find immune ‘regulator’

Local scientists say they have found a “regulator” in the immune system which could lead to new treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus, a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

Chen Lingling and her research team at the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that circular RNAs, biological molecules used in the coding of genes, regulate an enzyme (PKR) that can trigger a response to viral infections.

RNAs restrict PKR activity, but when cells are attacked by a virus, circular RNAs are largely eliminated, allowing PKR to fight the virus.

However, in the case of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, scientists detected low levels of circular RNAs, meaning that they are too weak to regulate PKR. As circular RNAs fail to control PKR, it becomes too active.

Very high levels of PKR are found in patients with lupus, causing their internal organs to overwork and become damaged. The results of the study were published in Cell yesterday.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common and serious form of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause severe fatigue and joint pain. It mostly occurs in women between 15 and 50, especially women of childbearing age.

In China, the incidence of lupus is eight times higher than that in the West, with one diagnosis for every 1,000 people. But we lack efficient and safe treatment.

One of authors of this work, Professor Shen Nan from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine said they had manipulated the level of circular RNAs in immune cells taken from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, and later they found the inflammation of these cells can be turned down.

“By understanding how to regulate the levels of circular RNA within patients’ immune cells, we can get novel insights to develop more effective treatment approaches,” Shen said.




 

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