The Lupus Trust has funded a study that has identified a major new feature of the human immune system that appears to be poorly engaged in lupus. Restoring this process in patients with lupus may be a novel way to restore health.
Antibodies are important components of the healthy immune system. They are small molecules that circulate in the blood that can bind to specifically to bugs that cause disease. In this way bugs can be eliminated before they cause harm. Every time you get vaccinated, your body makes antibodies very specifically to the vaccine, and these antibodies help to protect you from the disease in the future. A major feature of the disease process in lupus involves the production of antibodies that target and damage the body’s own cells and tissues.
Our research has shown that in healthy individuals newly produced cells that make antibodies localise in the gut where the harmless bacteria from the gut can activate some of them them. This stimulates them to produce antibodies that could bind to the cells and tissues of the body but the body shuttles them into the intestine so they don’t get a chance to cause any damage. However, in lupus this movement of antibody producing cells into the intestine is defective. We suggest that cells that make antibodies to harmless bacteria and cells and tissues that would normally be shuttled to the gut in health, stay in the circulation and cause damage in SLE*.
In the future we wish to understand this process further and to see if we can figure out how we can encourage antibody-producing cells to enter intestinal tissues in SLE as they do in health. If we could do this, the antibodies that have the potential to bind self would be safely pumped into the gut in SLE as they are in health.