To fully understand autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), it is necessary to study not just the immune system, but also the tissue that the immune system is attacking, a study suggests.
“We must move away from the present ‘immune-centric-only’ view of autoimmune diseases,” Decio Eizirik, MD, PhD, study co-author and scientific director of the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute Diabetes Center, said in a press release.
“Indeed, trying to understand these diseases focusing on the immune system only, and forgetting the target tissues, may be similar to attempting to fly a plane with only one win,” Eizirik said.
The study reporting these findings, “Gene expression signatures of target tissues in type 1 diabetes, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis,” was published in the journal Science Advances.
The immune system is responsible for defending the body against disease-causing invaders, like viruses and bacteria. In the broadest sense, its job is to attack anything that is not a normal part of the body while leaving healthy tissue alone.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system erroneously attacks healthy tissue: in MS, the nervous system is the target of this immune attack. Other tissues are targeted in other autoimmune diseases. Tor instance, in type 1 diabetes (T1D), the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, that are responsible for making insulin.
Different autoimmune diseases share commonalities, but they are often studied separately. Additionally, most research in autoimmune diseases focuses on the immune system, not the tissue that is being attacked.
“There is increasing evidence that the target tissues of these diseases are not innocent bystanders of the autoimmune attack but participate in a deleterious dialog with the immune system that contributes to their own demise,” the researchers wrote.
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