Researchers have identified a protein, called NALP5, which
opens new possibilities of understanding both APS-1 - a rare hereditary disease
where the immune system attacks the body's own organs - and other autoimmune
NALP5 constitutes the target for the immune system's attacks
on the parathyroid glands in the disease APS-1.
This discovery allows researchers to understand the first
phase of autoimmune disorders in general, where immune cells, instead of
attacking alien bacteria and viruses, erroneously attack the body's own tissue.
NALP5 not only functions as a target for the immune cells in
humans, but also in animal models for the disease that have the same genetic
defect as APS-1 patients.
"This means now, for the first time, in an experimental
situation we will be able to compare the immune defence with exactly the same
target protein in humans and in an animal model," said Mohammad AliMohammadi at
the Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University, who made the discovery.
The parathyroid glands, which were discovered in 1879 by
scientists at Uppsala University, regulate the body's calcium balance and are
the most recently described anatomical structures in humans.
The fact that NALP5 was discovered in the parathyroid glands
boosts understanding of their functions.
In the future, this discovery can pave the way to develop
drugs and treatment methods for diseases producing disturbances in the calcium
balance, such as osteoporosis.
NALP5 also makes it possible to diagnose the disease early,
so that patients can receive the appropriate treatment.
The finding is being published in the journal The New
England Journal of Medicine.