Melbourne: Researchers have discovered that two proteins that work together to kill 'self-reactive' immune cells can protect against diseases such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia have discovered that absence of proteins called Puma and Bim can lead to self-reactive immune cells accumulating and attacking many different body organs, causing illness.

Dr Daniel Gray and colleagues from the institute's Molecular Genetics of Cancer division and the University of Ballarat found that the proteins called 'BH3-only' proteins make the self-reactive cells die by a process called apoptosis.

Defects in apoptosis proteins have been linked to many human diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders and autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis, develop when immune cells launch an attack on the body's own cells, destroying important body organs or structures.

Gray said one way the body protects against autoimmune during their development.

"If any self-reactive cells manage to reach maturity, the body normally has a second safeguard of switching these potentially dangerous cells into an inactive state, preventing them from causing autoimmune disease," he said in a statement.

"We were able to use this discovery to show that the death of self-reactive immune cells is indeed an important protection against autoimmune disease development," Gray added.

The research was published in the journal Immunity.


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