Autoimmune disease research points to new therapies

A team of scientists from the Whitehead Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified a key set of genes that lie at the heart of autoimmune disease; findings that may help scientists develop new methods for manipulating immune system activity. Their work hinges on a greater understanding of the way regulatory T cells control the frontline T cells that attack pathogens. A failure of regulatory T cells can lead the front line white blood cells to attack the body's tissues, causing autoimmune disease. This new research focuses on the role of the master T cell regulator, Foxp3. Researchers in Richard Young's Whitehead lab, working with immunologist Harald von Boehmer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, used a DNA microarray technology developed by Young to scan the entire genome of T cells and locate the genes controlled by Foxp3. There were roughly 30 genes found to be directly controlled by Foxp3 and one, called Ptpn22, showed a particularly strong affinity.

"This may shorten the path to new therapies for autoimmune disease," says MIT professor Richard Young, senior author on the paper that will appear January 21 online in Nature. "With this new list of genes, we can now look for possible therapies with far greater precision.

- here's the release on their findings

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