Human Cytomegalovirus Linked To Autoimmune Disorders

A little-known virus has been associated with autoimmune disease as it triggers an immune response that also destroys natural killer cells in the body.

AsianScientist (Apr. 15, 2016) – A study by scientists in China has directly linked a little-known virus with autoimmune disorders. The work was published in Cell Host & Microbe.

You may have never heard of it, but human cytomegalovirus (CMV) may be the most prevalent virus you will encounter in your life. Around 60-90 percent of human population is infected by it; and most of them get along just fine without even realizing its existence.

There is growing evidence linking CMV with autoimmune diseases, and although scientists have studied it for a long time, the direct role of CMV in autoimmune disorders remains as little-known as its name. The present study, led by Professor Li Zhanguo and Professor Yang Guang from Peking University in China, sheds light on how CMV contributes to autoimmune diseases.

The research group has identified an antibody called anti-Pp150, which is very likely induced by the presence of CMV. Anti-Pp150 identifies CMV and then triggers a stream of immune responses which will eliminate the virus.

What the researchers found, however, is that anti-Pp150 also targets natural killer (NK) cells, which play a protective role against tumors and viruses in humans. When coated by anti-Pp150, NK cells will be attacked by our own immune system and be destroyed.

The reduction of NK cells is characteristic of a bunch of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and primary Sjogren’s syndrome. Previous studies have also associated the loss of NK cells with autoimmune diseases.

Li and Yang’s work is significant, as Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, a professor from Karolinska Institutet, says in a commentary article: “This work also opens avenues for studying the link between CMV and cancer,” as “CMV infection is present in 90-100 percent of lymphomas, brain tumors, neuroblastomas, sarcomas and breast, colon, and prostate cancers.”

The article can be found at: Liu et al. (2016) A Cytomegalovirus Peptide-Specific Antibody Alters Natural Killer Cell Homeostasis and Is Shared in Several Autoimmune Diseases.


Source: Peking University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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