Leading the way to a cure


Memory impairment and depression in SLE: Role of NDMA receptors

Julian, Laura, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Cognitive dysfunction and depression are common among systemic lupus patients, regardless of whether they have other neurological complications. In the absence of neurological complications such as seizures and strokes, the causes of these symptoms remain unclear. One theory is that they are related to the dysfunction of a specific brain cell receptor called the anti-N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) receptor.

This receptor underlies memory functioning and depressive disorders in other populations but has never been studied in lupus. Yet lupus patients may be specifically vulnerable to NMDA receptor dysfunction because many patients exhibit an anti-NMDA receptor antibody, which may cause NMDA receptor dysfunction. In animal studies, this anti-NMDA antibody was responsible for memory impairment, emotional dysfunction and microscopic neuronal dysfunction. 

With this grant, Dr. Julian and her team will evaluate cognitive functioning and depression in lupus patients and healthy controls using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a brain imaging technology that will allow them to evaluate NMDA receptor function. The study will be part of a larger ongoing longitudinal investigation of depression, cognitive functioning, advanced neuroimaging markers and disease status in lupus. 

What this study means for people with lupus:  The study will provide valuable information about the underlying cause of depression and cognitive impairment in lupus patients. This information could be used to guide the use of existing treatments that target the NMDA receptor. It can also aid in the future development of new treatments to target neuronal dysfunction and improve the quality of life for lupus patients.

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