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Gene Family May Be to Blame for Lupus

Finding might lead to more tailored treatments for patients, researchers say

FRIDAY, Dec. 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Scientists have identified a family of genes that plays a role in determining the potential for developing lupus.

"Our findings indicate genetic susceptibility to lupus results from imbalance between genes that increase and genes that suppress the immune system's responsiveness," senior study author Dr. Ward Wakeland, director of the Center for Immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said in a prepared statement.

"Individuals with increased risk for lupus may simply have the misfortune of expressing a 'bad' combination of versions of genes that are 'good' for resistance to infectious diseases," Wakeland said.

In research with mice, he and his colleagues found that a cluster of genes called the SLAM/CD2 family played a vital role in the development of lupus, but only when the SLAM/CD2 genes interacted in specific combinations with other genes.

"The way the disease is treated now is through a broad spectrum of drug therapies that basically suppress the entire immune system," Wakeland said.

"Patients with lupus under this therapy are at risk to develop infectious diseases because their immune system is completely impaired. If we can understand what the suppressor gene is doing to block SLAM/CD2, we may be able to tweak the immune system back into normal balance," he said.

The research appears in the Dec. 14 issue of Immunity.

Lupus is a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects more than 1 million Americans. The disease causes the immune system to attack the body's own tissue and organs.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more about lupus.

SOURCE: UT Southwestern Medical Center, news release, Dec. 14, 2004
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