Possible Master Switch Gene in Juvenile Arthritis, Identified



The ‘master switch’ gene that has been to play a role in some varities of rheumatoid arthritis in adults has now been identfied in all types of childhood arthritis.

Such were the findings of pediatric researchers at The Children’s Hopsital of Philadelphia. We all know arthritis isn’t an age-related condition anymore.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joint. Of course the old notion that the condition is age-related still prevails. Well, even my own mother cannot believe that arthritis can happen to younger people. But then it really can.

Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to “seek and destroy” invaders of the body, particularly infections.

Going back to the above findings. Researchers are claiming that the gene identifies may be the master switch’ that helps turn on rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reported on the link between the gene region and juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), formerly called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The genetic variant is on chromosome 9 in a region housing two genes, TRAF1 and C5.

The TRAF1 gene codes for a protein that regulates tumor necrosis factor, a chemical strongly associated with JIA. However, the researchers say further study is needed to determine whether the TRAF1 gene or the C5 gene is altered in the disease.

According to Terri H. Finkel, M.D., Ph.D — the chief of Rheumatology at Children’s Hospital and one of the study’s lead author:

“There are only a few genes that may act as master switches like this to regulate autoimmune diseases. This switch we discovered probably has to be an ‘ON’ gene and when it interacts with other genes and environmental triggers, a child may get juvenile arthritis.”

What are the implications of the above findings? For one, hopefully better targeted treatments that will benefit both children and adults suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. In children the condition is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (formerly juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).

Edward M. Behrens, M.D. , a pediatric rheumatologist at The Children’s Hospital, said:

“We think this finding may be a clue to the specific disease pathway that leads to arthritis. We currently use medicines called tumor necrosis factor blockers to treat children with JIA.

However, not all children respond to these drugs, and other children may develop severe allergic reactions and other side effects. If we can fully identify all the genes that interact with environmental risk factors, we might develop more targeted treatments with fewer side effects.”

The abovementioned study appears in the July 2008 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Indeed this is an exciting development worth watching out for, don’t you think? We’ll see how this goes.

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  1. Thank you for giving this useful information. It is very needed for me a lot.

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