Link Discovered Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Huntington’s Disease
Scientists investigating the genetics of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have discovered an overlap between the causes of RA and those associated with Huntington’s disease.
The surprising findings could lead to the development of new ways of diagnosing and treating both conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system targeting the joints, leading to pain and swelling. It’s not yet known what triggers this, although there is some evidence that RA could be genetic.
Huntington’s disease is an incurable brain disease that gradually gets worse over time. It is usually fatal after 20 years. It is a genetic disease caused by a faulty gene that results in parts of the brain becoming damaged. If a parent has Huntington’s disease, there is a 50% chance of their children developing the condition.
Researchers from University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, were analysing the ‘epigenetics’ involved in RA when they made the link between these two conditions.
Epigenetics is the study of the processes that alter the gene structure without changing the DNA sequence itself. These changes are essential to human growth and development, and are influenced by a variety of factors, for example stress, exercise and lifestyle choices.
The researchers found a link between RA and Huntington’s disease when they were studying the number of epigenetic combinations in the genes of people with RA.
New treatment options
The research team developed a novel algorithm (a set of rules) which integrated and reduced the number of epigenetic combinations in the genes of people with RA. This meant that the researchers could find connections between different diseases.
It is hoped that the discovery of the link between RA and Huntington’s disease could lead to the development of new treatment options for people living with either disease – neither of which currently has a cure.
One of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, said that the research means they have not only gained a better understanding of RA, but that people with other immune-related diseases may also benefit from the findings, particularly if new treatments are subsequently developed.
The author, Gary Firestein, said: “As genes involved are discovered, researchers can potentially identify new treatment options and even repurpose existing drugs.”
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