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Researchers Uncover New Molecular Mechanism Behind Some Autoimmune Diseases

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Scientists in Japan now understand the mechanism behind some immune diseases. According to their latest research, the reactions of the immune system — in some cases — do not stop when they are supposed to and thus put a strain on the entire organism. This may all be caused by the absence of some tiny immune cells.

Immune system protects the body from foreign substances. With it, we are able fight potentially pathogenic organisms. We can even say that we owe our existence to it. However, not all immune systems are so perfectly balanced.

The Mechanism Behind Treg Cells

Many people suffer from autoimmune diseases and allergies. Some symptoms are tolerable, while others can be life threatening.

Researchers at Osaka University, Japan, decided to find out why this phenomenon happens. Their results explain, at least partially, why some autoimmune diseases develop.

Based on their observation, the immune reactions stop when they are no longer needed. Through the intervention of some specialized immune cells, known as regulatory T cells or Treg cells, the immune system is shut off; however, if the reactions don't stop, the system will start to damage healthy tissues as well.

It is, therefore, important to understand the mechanism behind the development of Treg cells, which takes place in the thymus. It seems the entire process depends on the so-called super-enhancer establishment, as explained by Professor Shimon Sakaguchi.

"Super-enhancers appeared to be a pre-requisite for Treg cell development, so we sought molecules controlling super-enhancers," noted Sakaguchi.

The research led the team to discover that the protein Satb1 was most likely the answer. They have observed that the levels of Satb1 increased before Treg cells develop, then decreased after the Treg cell development. Further studies have shown that Satb1 regulates the epigenetic changes that precede the creation of regulatory T cells. The protein seems to be essentially important in the process of differentiation of the Treg cells, but does not help their maintenance.

Reduced Autoimmune Conditions

The results were further affirmed with experiments on mice. The specimens with reduced levels of Satb1 developed fewer Treg cells and started to exhibit symptoms specific to autoimmune diseases. The results are significant in understanding how immune systems work against the very organisms they are supposed to defend, as there is a very clear connection between the number of regulatory T cells and the normal function of the immune system.

Hopefully, further research will show practical ways of helping patients with allergies and autoimmune diseases.

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