Discovery May Lead to Lupus Treatments

Plucking out protein prevented the disease in mice

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THURSDAY, July 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers have found that removal of an immune system protein prevents the development of a lupus-like condition in mice, a discovery that could lead to new treatments for lupus.

The protein, called SLAM-associated protein, has previously been found in high levels in animals with autoimmune conditions. Now doctors have more reason to believe the protein contributes to lupus, lead researcher Dr. Stanford Peng, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a statement.

"What's most exciting is that normal immune system functions were still largely intact in the experimental mice that lacked (the protein)," Peng said. "Other immune system proteins are potential targets for new autoimmune disease treatments, but they all affect large portions of the immune system, making weakened immune function a potential side effect of any new drug. Targeting [the protein] for treatment may avoid that risk."

The protein affects the activity of a number of molecules lying on the surface of immune system cells known as lymphocytes.

Lupus affects approximately 1.5 million Americans, causing arthritis, prolonged fatigue, skin rashes, kidney damage, anemia and breathing pain.

The study appears in the July 15 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

More information

The Lupus Foundation of America has more about lupus.

SOURCES: Washington University School of Medicine, news release, July 14, 2004

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