Study: Culprit leading to rheumatoid arthritis discovered

February 26, 2014

By RYOSUKE NONAKA/ Staff Writer

An international group of researchers is offering hopes of a cure for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, identifying the prime culprit behind the onset of the crippling disease.

This discovery could lead to the development of a drug for the first time to cure the autoimmune disease, in which a sufferer's immune system attacks his own tissues, instead of combating invading viruses and bacteria in the body.

The scientists, including researchers at Osaka University, have found that people susceptible to contracting rheumatoid arthritis developed the disease after cellular misfolded proteins are transported to the surfaces of cells without being processed into peptides. These proteins were processed within the cells in the bodies of healthy people.

“We can expect to develop a drug that is targeted at denatured proteins to dissolve them, or a method of examination that will allow doctors to make a diagnosis of the disease at an extremely early stage,” said Hisashi Arase, professor of immunology at Osaka University, one of the researchers.

The findings were carried in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on Feb. 25.

Rheumatoid arthritis results in the slow deterioration of the joints in the hands and feet of patients.

The cause of the disease had largely been unknown until recently, limiting treatment to the reduction of the patient's over-active immune system and of the inflammation caused by the arthritis.

Under the research project, Arase and other members of the research team conducted extensive and detailed analysis of cells of patients with rheumatoid arthritis down to the molecules.

They discovered that molecules that are supposed to bind to part of the targets in order to have lymphocytes recognize the targets for attacks, actually bound to denatured proteins. Because of this, the lymphocytes attacked the molecules.

Until the recent findings, researchers linked the onset of rheumatoid arthritis with abnormal lymphocytes.

According to the health ministry, an estimated 700,000 people in Japan suffer from the disease.

By RYOSUKE NONAKA/ Staff Writer
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