Specific Autoantibodies Linked to Scleroderma, Research Study Finds

By Jodee Redmond from In The Cloud Copy

A recent study suggests that certain antibodies could be linked to specific human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes and environmental components in scleroderma. This discovery may help to shed light on the disorder’s high variability. The scientists also hope to find out why African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with scleroderma.

What is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma is a word that means “hard skin.” It is an autoimmune disease and a chronic one. Scleroderma affects the body by hardening its connective tissue, which is located throughout the body. It also produces autoantibodies, which attack healthy cells as opposed to potential threats.

There are four varieties of antibodies that have been discovered in scleroderma (also called systemic sclerosis [SSc]) patients. They are as follows:

  • (ACA) Anticentromere antibody
  • (ATA) Antitopoisomerase I antibody
  • (AFA) Anti-U3-ribonucleoprotein antibody
  • (ARA) Anti-RNA polymerase III antibody

The ATA and the AFA antibodies are more frequently found in patients who are of African-American descent.

The disease’s severity varies from patient to patient. Some people only experience mild symptoms, which don’t have a major impact on their lifestyle. For others, it leads to significant health issues or can even be life-threatening.

Researchers Compared Groups with Different Backgrounds for Study

Previous work in this area has revealed that HLA genes could possibly increase a patient’s risk of developing SSc. These are the genes that have an important function for helping the body’s immune system tell the difference between naturally produced proteins from those produced by toxic bacteria or viruses.

HLA alleles have an extremely powerful effect on patients who produce certain SSc autoantibodies.

In the current study, researchers from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and their colleagues looked at the correlation between people who were high-risk HLA alleles and scleroderma-specific autoantibodies in a big sample of the population. The study participants were specifically people who could trace their ancestry to Europe or Africa.

The researchers analyzed data collected from a control group made up of 946 African Americans who did not have SSc as well as 5,347 European Americans who were not living with the disease. They also looked at data from 662 African Americans with SSc and 723 European Americans who have the disease.

SSc Rates Higher for African Americans

The results of the survey indicated that two specific HLA alleles were found mainly in people who are of African descent. The researchers noted that such alleles may help to explain why people with this profile were more likely to be diagnosed with SSc and have more severe symptoms of the disease.

In the case of the European Americans, two other HLA alleles were commonly found. These HLA alleles pointed to a lower risk of SSc.

This research study also identified a specific allele that was connected to ATA antibodies in SSc patients. In this case, racial ancestry made no difference.

The results of this study will be used for further research and clinical trials. Going forward, preventive screening could be performed that would make early diagnosis and treatment a reality.

Learn more about this research here.

Check out the original study here.


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