Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) have uncovered a potential genetic trigger of systemic autoimmune disease. The study, the culmination of more than 10 years of research and published online in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology in June, discovered virus-like elements within the human genome linked to the development of two autoimmune diseases: lupus and Sjogren's syndrome.
Researchers studied kidney biopsy samples from 24 patients with lupus nephritis and salivary gland tissue from 31 patients with Sjogren's syndrome and compared them to healthy tissue.
"Our findings support the hypothesis that L1 retroelements, perhaps along with other virus-derived genomic elements, may contribute to the development of autoimmune disorders characterized by high levels of type 1 interferon," she said. "Although it may not be the only cause, it's intriguing to think that virus-derived elements in our own genome are either quiet and don't cause any trouble, or they get stirred up and contribute to disease."
Further studies are needed to elucidate the role of both exogenous and endogenous viruses in the development of autoimmune disease, Dr. Crow said. Gaining a better understanding of the underlying disease mechanisms could offer the possibility of developing new and better treatments for lupus and other autoimmune conditions in the future.