April 22, 2019
A study published in JCI Insight by researchers at University of Michigan Medical School suggests that the reason why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases than men may lie in excess levels of a protein VGLL3 in skin cells.
Their study discovered that “too much VGLL3 in skin cells pushes the immune system into overdrive, leading to a “self-attacking” autoimmune response.”
“VGLL3 appears to regulate immune response genes that have been implicated as important to autoimmune diseases that are more common in women, but that don’t appear to be regulated by sex hormones,” says Johann Gudjonsson, M.D., Ph.D., who led the research team and is a professor of dermatology at the U-M Medical School. “Now, we have shown that over-expression of VGLL3 in the skin of transgenic mice is by itself sufficient to drive a phenotype that has striking similarities to systemic lupus erythematosus, including skin rash, and kidney injury.”
It is not yet known why women have more VGLL3 or what triggers set off the excessive activity of the protein.
The U of Michigan team hopes that their work may identify targets for new therapies that would block VGLL3. Meanwhile senior coauthor Michelle Kahlenberg, M.D., of the U-M Division of Rheumatology, is recruiting patients with lupus for a study sponsored by U-M’s A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute that will explore these questions further.