Two studies by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center could lead to new treatments for lupus and other autoimmune diseases and strengthen therapies for viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections.
The studies identify a new enzyme that acts as a sensor of innate immunity – the body’s first line of defense against invaders – and describe a novel cell-signaling pathway. This pathway detects foreign DNA or even host DNA when it appears in a part of the cell where DNA should not be. In addition, the investigations show that the process uses a naturally occurring compound in a class known to exist in bacteria but never before seen in humans or other multicellular organisms, according to Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen.
Dr. Chen, a UTSW professor of molecular biology, is senior author of both studies online and published in the current edition of Science. Although the immune-boosting response of DNA has long been recognized, the mechanism underlying that response remained a mystery, he said.