michUsing a mouse model, researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich, report that they have identified the role that a specific group of genes may play in activating the cells that cause rheumatoid arthritis. According to a university news release, prior research throughout the years has focused on the group of genes, human leukocyte antigen (HLA), and sought to determine why certain versions of HLA are linked to autoimmune disorders.

The release notes that a commonly held theory in the field states the link between particular HLA genes and autoimmune disease is a result of mistakenly identifying body tissues as foreign, triggering the disease. The current study, researchers say, bucks convention by indicating that a subset of HLA genes causes arthritis by activating inflammation-causing cells, in addition to osteoclasts, leading to severe arthritis and bone erosion.

Joseph Holoshitz, MD, emphasizes, “We believe this could be a significant breakthrough in our understanding of why certain genes are associated with higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases—a link that has been a mystery for decades.”

Holoshitz adds that understanding the role of these mechanisms may pave the road for future treatments, “Because we know the molecular mechanism that activates arthritis-causing cells, we have the potential to block that pathway with simple chemical comounds that could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases,” Holoshitz says.

Source: University of Michigan Health System