Lupus Research Hits a Nerve

Lupus Research Institute—August 6, 2013

If you have lupus, your kidneys, your brain, your heart – could be at risk. But LRI-funded researcher Dr. Jane Salmon and her colleagues at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery have found that treatments to stimulate the nervous system may be able to protect these organs. And they’re looking into whether you can also do this naturally with healthy activities like aerobic exercise and meditation.

Here’s what her research shows:
In lupus, certain immune cells may trigger inflammation, potentially damaging any part of the body. These inflammation-causing cells carry receptors for neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerves. However until now, no one knew what the receptors were doing on cells of the immune system at sites of injury in lupus.

With an LRI Novel Research Grant, Dr. Salmon and her team tested the effects of neurotransmitters in mice with lupus-like disease. They found that stimulating a type of neurotransmitter receptor called cholinergic receptors resulted in less inflammation and less organ damage.

“We have found a new way to dampen inflammation that could be used to limit damage and promote tissue repair,” explained Dr. Salmon.

The new findings are reported in the July 12 issue of the Journal of Immunology. Her team plans to investigate how to turn this discovery into treatment for lupus. They are looking at using existing drugs that directly activate cholinergic receptors or producing more cholinergic neurotransmitters by electrically stimulating the vagus nerve. The vagal nerve carries a wide assortment of signals to and from the brain, and governs many reflex responses. According to Dr. Salmon, if her approach proves effective, patients may also benefit from activities like aerobic exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and relaxation training that naturally stimulate the vagal nerve.

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