Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., uncovered evidence that the abnormal “editing” of gene messages in a type of white blood cell may be behind the development of lupus.

The findings, reported online in the journal Immunology, involve an enzyme that “edits” and modifies the messages of genes before the protein-making process. Protein molecules are what carry out the instructions of our genes and determine how an organism looks, how well its body metabolizes food or fights infection, and even how it behaves.

In lupus, the normal editing process goes awry, causing a shift in the balance of proteins that results in impaired functions in T cells, a type of white blood cell involved in the regulation of immune functions. The current research was based on earlier findings that one of the three enzymes involved in editing gene messages,150-kDa ADAR1, is higher in the T cells of lupus patients compared to those without lupus.

Senior author Dama Laxminarayana, PhD, made the initial finding about 150-kDa ADAR1 levels in 2002 and has been working to solve the mystery of how it is related to the development of lupus. In the current study, he found that the higher levels of 150-kDa ADAR1 alter the editing induced by two other enzymes and may cause an imbalance of proteins, causing normal editing to go awry. The researchers are now working to find a safe way to block the enzyme to treat the disease, so stay tuned for more lupus news.

In addition, Laxminarayana says 150-kDa ADAR1 could be used as a biomarker to detect the disease earlier, to monitor how patients respond to therapy, and to measure disease intensity.