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Scientists find cause behind autoimmune hepatitis

Category: Autoimmune Diseases

A new animal study from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has uncovered a mechanism responsible for the development of autoimmune hepatitis. The mechanism, a gene mutation, interferes with the activity of some cells in the immune system and causes them to target the liver.

According to the Mayo Clinic, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body's immune system attacks the liver and results in inflammation. Gone untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Previously, it was unclear what causes the condition, but the Mount Sinai study may have shed some light on the phenomenon.

The researchers sought to explain why T-cells would attack healthy tissues in the body and lead to inflammation and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune hepatitis and lupus. To find out what causes these reactions, they looked at depleted supplies of medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) in mice. mTECs are supposed to teach T-cells when they should attack tissue, so a lack of them would theoretically cause a number of autoimmune diseases. However, without mTECs, the mice's T-cells went straight for the liver.

"We thought that deleting Traf6 would trigger an autoimmune reaction due to a depletion of mTECs, but did not expect the autoimmune response to be specific to the liver," said Konstantina Alexandropoulos, lead author of the study. "These findings provide an exciting new animal model to study autoimmune hepatitis. We hope that this research will pave the way for new therapies to address a significant unmet need for people with this disease."

Treating autoimmune hepatitis
Lab tests are necessary to detect autoimmune diseases or the conditions that put people at risk of them. Currently, autoimmune hepatitis can be treated if it is detected early on. Doctors prescribe medications to suppress the immune system and stop it from attacking healthy tissue. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

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