Microbiome research opens a new pathway for autoimmune disease

The prospect that new research into the complex world of gut bacteria will deliver a whole new class of therapies has inspired the launch of a lineup of upstart biotechs. And now investigators in Belgium say they may have found a potentially compelling pathway for microbiome drug developers working in the autoimmune field.

Using mouse models, scientists at Ghent University concluded that by boosting segmented filamentous bacteria they were able to engineer an unwanted antibody response targeting segments of the cell nucleus. And they created the kind of immune response that spurs organ damage linked to autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis.

"Our results demonstrate how gut health in young animals may be linked to autoimmune disease in older animals," says Dirk Elewaut, Professor at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium and VIB Inflammation Research Center, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium who is one of the lead authors of the study. "The microbiome of the young mouse impacts a loss of tolerance of the secondary immune system against proteins in the nucleus of the cell. The attack of certain proteins by the body's own immune system can subsequently lead to tissue damage and disease."

To produce that effect the researchers used an engineered mouse model that lacked secondary lymphoid organs that activate white blood cells.

"We have demonstrated a link between the microbiome of young mice and the later onset of autoimmune disease," says Elewaut. "Further work is needed to establish the precise molecular mechanisms that lead to the onset of diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis in humans but we now have a new path of enquiry that we can pursue and look for potential interventions."

- here's the release