A Georgia State University professor received a five-year, $1.95 million federal grant to study the causes of autoimmunity in the human body. Dr. Leszek Ignatowicz of the Institute for Biomedical Sciences received the National Institutes of Health’s National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) grant to support an investigation into why the immune system attacks its own body, referred to as compromised tolerate, and how autoimmunity actually develops.
Autoimmune diseases are the third most common group of diseases in the United States after cancer and heart disease. Over 100 types of autoimmune diseases have been identified, including Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis, thyroid diseases and inflammatory bowel disease. Most of these diseases have no cure and many involve debilitating symptoms, organ function loss and even death. These conditions ream largely a mystery despite such prevalence and cost to patients and society.
Levels of Immunity
As it turns out, all vertebrates (including humans) have two levels of immunity: 1) innate immune system and 2) adaptive immune system (e.g. dependence on lymphocytes (B cells or T cells). Autoimmunity occurs when lymphocytes become activated by peptides derived from the body’s own proteins rather than from pathogens, activating an immune response.
What is the Cause?
Most people don’t get autoimmune diseases because tolerance works properly in their body. With central tolerance, reports the Georgia State University News Hub, T cells that have a capacity to be pathogenic and autoreactive, or activated by self-antigens, are supposed to be eliminated and die in the thymus gland where they originally developed. This process is not 100 percent reliable, and an unknown percent of potentially autoreactive T cells escape and may cause autoimmunity. Thereafter, a second line of security called peripheral tolerance identifies these remaining T cells that have the potential to be autoreactive and inhibits them.
As Professor Ignatowicz emphasized in the Georgia State University news release, the funding will support his investigation into a better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms triggering autoimmunity and hopefully, informing therapeutic strategies addressing autoreactive T cells that elude central tolerance. However, “from a clinical perspective, identification of dormant, autoreactive T cells is critically important for saving a new category of autoimmune patients with peripheral tolerance deliberately broken by regulatory T cells that silence treatments to enhance immunity to infection or cancer.”
Call to Action: For more information, see a link to the project description.