One Step Closer to Unlocking Lupus Mystery
May 30, 2000 -- From the time she was 2 years old, Kathleen Arntsen suffered
from a variety of health problems. "I was always thirsty," she says,
"and even as a small child, I always had cold hands and feet." Arntsen
also says that she was especially prone to infections, and "caught every
childhood infection that there was. You name it, I got it."
Doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her. Her symptoms persisted and
worsened by the time she went off to college, and she was labeled a
hypochondriac because all tests kept coming back normal. But despite her
problems, Arntsen kept up with school and was very athletic. "Then one
morning, I just couldn't get out of bed. I ached all over," she
Even though the doctors still couldn't find any reason for her illness,
Arntsen believed that there was something terribly wrong with her. Soon she was
unable to lift her arms over her head, and she developed a rash on her
Finally, doctors found that she had lupus, a disease that affects millions
of people worldwide. It causes the immune system to attack the body's own cells
and causes multiple symptoms such as arthritis, sores on the skin, and kidney
failure. And even though it's not primarily a hereditary disease, Arntsen's
grandmother had died the year before, experiencing symptoms very similar to
The majority of lupus patients are young women, like Arntsen, and the causes
of the disease are still unclear, primarily because the condition is extremely
complex and affects numerous systems of the body. However, a recent study
indicates that researchers may be one step closer to uncovering the secret as
to why lupus develops and perhaps one step closer to discovering an effective
treatment or cure.
"The problem studying lupus is that lupus is a collection of multiple
disorders with multiple [causes] ... what we clinically label as lupus is
undoubtedly a whole slew of different disorders," says William Stohl, MD,
PhD, who was not involved in the study. Stohl is an associate professor of
medicine at the University of Southern California.
When cells in the body die, they break down into DNA, protein, and other
debris, which needs to be cleared away in order for systems to function
properly. The substance responsible for clearing away "cellular trash"
is known as Dnase1, and German scientists have shown the first direct evidence
that a deficiency in Dnase1 functioning may be one of the causes of lupus. This
is because the "cellular trash" may cause the body to mount an immune
response to it and to begin attacking its own cells.
The researchers found that Dnase1 levels were lower in people with lupus and
in animal experiments, stopping the production of Dnase1 resulted in lupus-like