Active type 1 interferon receptor signaling observed (green) within the brain (red). Boston Children’s Hospital
Lupus is a life-long autoimmune disease that can attack almost any organ in the body, including the heart, lungs, and brain. Yet the cause behind many of its neurological symptoms is still a mystery to scientists.
“In general, lupus patients commonly have a broad range of neuropsychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, seizures, even psychosis,” said Allison Bialas, first author of a new study, in a statement. “But their cause has not been clear.”
The mystery lies in the fact that the blood brain barrier is highly selective – only specific substances are allowed through to protect the brain from harm. This has caused scientists many headaches over the years, as the brain’s high-end security system often also prevents them from providing life-saving drugs.
For lupus, the question is what is getting through this barrier?
Scientists have known for some time that lupus causes the patient’s immune system to attack the body’s tissues and organs. This results in white blood cells releasing proteins called type I interferons, which act like an alarm bell for the rest of the immune system.
But these proteins don’t cross the blood brain barrier…