Monday, February 16, 2015

Autoimmune Diseases Linked To Genomic Switches

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have now discovered certain genomic switches in blood cells that may be key to regulating the human immune system.
Senior study author John J. O'Shea, M.D., and the scientific director at NIH's National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases studied how the immune system can mistakenly attack its own cells, resulting in inflammation.

Many autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, resulting in inflammation that can result in different health problems. Though the causes of many autoimmune diseases are not well understood, scientists believe that they have a genetic component because they often run in families.

However, identifying an autoimmune disease isn't always so simple. Some genes have been found in regions of DNA that the genes do not carry. Furthermore, scientists have suspected that the variants are in DNA elements called enhancers that act as switches to help control various gene activities.
Researchers began searching for super-enhancers (SEs) in T cells, otherwise known as immune cells that play a critical role in rheumatoid arthritis. SEs could serve as signposts to steer them toward potential genetic risk factors for the disease, according to the study.

"Rather than starting off by looking at genes that we already knew were important in T cells, we took an unbiased approach," the researchers concluded. "From the locations of their super-enhancers, T cells are telling us where in the genome these cells invest their assets--their key proteins--and thereby where we are most likely to find genetic alterations that confer disease susceptibility."

read the entire article here

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