WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have better defined the role of genetic material called ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the operation of the body's immune system.
"We think this study will open a new area of research in understanding how our immune systems protect us," said co-author Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School's division of infectious diseases.
His team demonstrated that RNA from bacteria stimulates immune cells to orchestrate the destruction of invading pathogens.
They also found that RNA from human cells is recognized by the immune system as coming from the same body. That means the RNA itself shouldn't trigger an immune attack, such as happens with invading bacteria or viruses.
The researchers hypothesize that if this self-recognition fails, however, then autoimmune diseases such as lupus could result.
RNA is the genetic material that make proteins, using the DNA's blueprint. RNA also specifies exactly which proteins should be made.
The investigators published their findings in the August issue of Immunity.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about autoimmune diseases.