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One Step Closer to Unlocking Lupus Mystery

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But whether the lack of Dnase1 actually leads to disease, or simply makes the disease worse for those who already have it, is difficult for experts to agree upon.

It also is unknown what causes people to lack Dnase1. Several possibilities are under investigation, says study author Tarik Möröy, PhD, a professor of cell biology at the Institut für Zellbiologie in Essen, Germany. "There may be a loss of the Dnase1 gene" which sparks production of the enzyme, he says. "Or we may inherit a Dnase1 gene that is less effective in producing the enzyme. Environmental factors that inhibit Dnase1 activity in the [blood] is also a possibility."

The researchers also examined blood samples of 10 patients with kidney disease. Four of them had lupus, and tests showed significantly decreased Dnase1 levels.

Whether or not treating lupus patients with Dnase1 will be effective still remains to be seen. Animal experiments have shown good results, but the outcome was less optimistic with actual lupus patients. The form of Dnase1 available leaves the body almost immediately, which makes it less effective for treatment.

Möröy feels that Dnase1 might have a better effect if used early on in the disease or to prevent it rather than in patients with full-blown lupus.

But the study evidence is not definitive, and even if the scientists are correct, lupus is too complex a disease to have just one cause. "It's right now still in the stage of hypothesis and conjecture, which is based on suggestive evidence but I wouldn't go so far as to say its proven yet," Stohl says.

Vital Information:

  • Lupus is a complex disorder that affects multiple parts of the body when the immune system attacks the body's own cells.
  • New research shows that levels of a substance, called Dnase1, responsible for cleaning up debris from dead cells, is lower among lupus patients, compared to others.
  • It is not known yet whether treating patients with this Dnase1 can effectively fight or slow this disease.
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