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Autoimmunity and Rogue Immune Cells

immune system May 07, 2020

We may think of the rogue scientist who plots to control the world in the latest science fiction thriller, but our immune system also operates with rogue agents.  For scientists studying autoimmunity, the search for potential rogue cells which triggered the disease process hit paydirt recently.  Knowing that the majority of autoimmune patients’ immune cells continued to function normally despite disease, they postulated that a smaller number of cells were responsible for the damage.  With newer tools of cell biology they focused down and identified cells responsible for producing the antibodies which caused the disease.  Having positively identified these cells, they “interrogated” the rogue cells genetically for clues.

Autoimmune disease occurs when our normally protective immune system turns its guns on our own tissues.  Just about any cell, tissue, or organ may become the target of such an attack.  The attack can come directly from immune cells or their products (antibodies).  Depending on the tissue and the type of damage, a wide variety of symptoms may ensue.  We have learned that various factors play a role in this “going rogue” process. In some cases, autoimmunity is triggered by toxins.  At other times, infections trigger the defection.  We also know that various genetics increase or decrease the possibility of autoimmunity.  In functional medicine we often repeat that while genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.

Once these diseases start their rogue defection to the dark side, our main therapeutic response has been to turn down their activity or cut off their pathways.  We use anti-inflammatories to slow and lessen the damage.  We administer therapies which attempt to block secondary messengers and secondary effects.  Although conventional medicine stops there, functional medicine seeks to identify and remove any leftover triggers like toxins and infections.  Sometimes this stops forward progression of the disease.  Sometimes the disease regresses to a milder level.  At least we can strive to prevent other triggers from being pulled and leading to second or third autoimmune processes.

Having identified the rogue cells, researchers learned some interesting facts through their genetic interrogations.  By using new tools that allow the genetic evaluation of single cells, they discovered that these cells possessed a number of mutations.  These mutations arose in genes which when combined caused cells to produce defective antibodies and operate outside normal control mechanisms.  One gene was known to play a role in early development of lymphoid cancers.

They now look forward to conducting the same study in search of rogue cells in other autoimmune diseases besides the cryoglobulinemic vasculitis patients in this initial study.  If similar genetic processes are found to occur in other autoimmune diseases, then they will have more proof that this mechanism is a common factor in autoimmunity.

As a functional medicine MD looking to discern all possible routes of improving my patients’ health, I have to ask another question… what caused these genetic changes in the first place.  The researchers hope to find drug which hinders the disease process once it starts.  Functional MD’s want to prevent the process by removing toxins and killing off the infections like EBV which pull the trigger.  We also know that many of the designer immune drugs so far which had hopes of cutting off pathways carry a variety of side effects.  We look to herbals which modulate rather than completely turning off a pathway.  We hope to turn down the pathways to a normal level so that the disease is halted yet side effects are avoided.  Encouraging metabolic and immune balance we aim at healthier, more abundant lives for our patients.


Original Article:

Mandeep Singh, Katherine J.L. Jackson, Jing J. Wang, Peter Schofield, Matt A. Field, David Koppstein, Timothy J. Peters, Deborah L. Burnett, Simone Rizzetto, Damien Nevoltris, Etienne Masle-Farquhar, Megan L. Faulks, Amanda Russell, Divya Gokal, Asami Hanioka, Keisuke Horikawa, Alexander D. Colella, Timothy K. Chataway, James Blackburn, Tim R. Mercer, David B. Langley, D. Margaret Goodall, Roy Jefferis, Muralikrishna Gangadharan Komala, Anthony D. Kelleher, Dan Suan, Maureen Rischmueller, Daniel Christ, Robert Brink, Fabio Luciani, Tom P. Gordon, Christopher C. Goodnow, Joanne H. Reed. Lymphoma Driver Mutations in the Pathogenic Evolution of an Iconic Human Autoantibody. Cell, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.01.029


Thanks to Science Daily:

Garvan Institute of Medical Research. “Rogue cells at root of autoimmune disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200213135800.htm>.

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