Lupus Research Institute Research Pinpoints Which Infections Trigger Flares

New research funded by the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) and the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has provided unique insight into how infections cause lupus flares. 

Dr. Stefania Gallucci (Temple University School of Medicine) and her colleagues Drs. Çagla Tükel and Roberto Caricchio have now pinpointed a mechanism by which a particular kind of infection that's caused by thin films of bacteria commonly known as biofilms – triggers lupus flares. Biofilms cause common infections such as urinary tract infections, ear infections and periodontal disease; understanding their role in lupus progression is key to managing the disease.

Dr. Gallucci had received an LRI Novel Research Grant in 2013 to investigate the mechanisms by which female sex hormones (estrogens) turn on cells in the immune system – specifically the dendritic cells – to cause lupus. In the process of testing molecules that would cause a similar response as estrogens, Drs. Gallucci and Tükel found that curli, a bacterial protein similar to the protein that produces plaque in several other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, triggered a very strong response.  In biofilms, curli sticks to DNA, forming very resilient fibers that cannot be broken apart. In mice, these fibers activate the immune system, resulting in the production of autoantibodies, the hallmark of lupus. 

The NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) also supported this work, as reported in their recent newsletter.

With her new 2016 LRI Novel Research Grant, Dr. Gallucci and her group will now explore whether infections affecting the entire body caused by bacteria that typically live harmoniously on the skin, gut, respiratory tract, etc., can trigger lupus initially and if they cause flares as the disease progresses. If so, the next step will be to explore implications for treating and possibly preventing this devastating disease.