Could individuals with one autoimmune condition be predisposed to develop a second one? Yes, suggests research by a team of immunologists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In a recent report published in Immune Network, Nirmal Banda and colleagues describe a molecular pathway involved in rheumatoid arthritis that could initiate other autoimmune diseases.
The immune system has evolved over millions of years to protect organisms from bacteria, parasites, viruses, and malignant cells. This powerful army of pathogen-killing cells can sometimes mistakenly turn on the body itself, for reasons that aren’t completely clear to scientists.There are over 100 autoimmune conditions where immune cells damage the body’s delicate tissues and organs, causing symptoms ranging from pain, fatigue, and nausea to more life-threatening ones.
Therapeutic interventions for autoimmune diseases mostly focus on minimizing symptoms, but these conditions are typically chronic and last a lifetime.
Banda and colleagues were performing experiments in mice to map the inflammatory pathways involved in rheumatoid arthritis (one of the most common autoimmune diseases). They observed that the animals later went on to develop a different autoimmune condition called axial spondyloarthritis, or AxSpA, which triggers spinal deformities. This led the scientists to hypothesize that changes in the immune system leading to arthritis may overlap with the pathologies of other autoimmune conditions.
Banda believes that this is the first evidence associating two autoimmune diseases that were previously thought to be unrelated. This finding, says Banda, warrants follow-up investigations to map the mechanism behind this phenomenon.
"I believe because of our changing environment we are seeing a growth in autoimmune diseases," commented Banda. "There are already connections between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis and dry age-related macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis. I believe this is an area that needs further exploration."