Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rheumatoid Arthritis – A Possible New Therapy

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic and debilitating illness.  It can strike at any age and seems to be more prevalent in women than men.  Although the specific etiology (cause) of RA is unknown it is categorized as an auto-immune disease – the body's immune system seems to mistakenly recognize normal tissue as foreign and attack it.  Other examples of autoimmune diseases are multiple sclerosis (MS) and Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).

The target for the autoimmune reaction in RA is primarily the joints on both sides of the body -wrists, fingers, knees, feet, etc.  The extent of the resulting disability can vary widely depending on other factors related to health.

In order to effectively treat RA, the underlying mechanism that leads to the disease needs to be better understood.  Recent evidence has implicated the so-called tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) as a major component in the development of this illness.  TNFα is found on the cell surface of immune cells.  TNFα is a member of a group of substances referred to as cytokines.  Cytokines are small protein molecules that are secreted by both the nervous and immune systems.   They have been found to play critical roles in the modulation of the immune system.


Dr. Hao Wu and his colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City have shown the disease-producing role of this substance using mouse models of inflammatory arthritis.  Furthermore, this investigative group has demonstrated that Progranulin (PGRN) slows the progression of arthritis in the mouse.  Progranulin is a naturally occurring growth factor for human fibroblasts – cells responsible for the production of collagen, an integral component of the body's connective tissue.  Progranulin seems to exert this inhibitory effect by binding to the receptor that normally binds TNFα, thereby inhibiting its role in the autoimmune process that results in RA.


These findings shed significant light on the immune process.  These data may ultimately contribute towards the treatment of this intractable disease.

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