'Killer' Cells May Cause Rare Autoimmune Disorder, Sjögren's Syndrome

First Posted: Jul 25, 2013 10:56 AM EDT

Though scientists are currently unsure what causes Sjögren's syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that attack's and dries up the glands, making tears and saliva difficult to produce, researchers believe they may have been able to pinpoint certain genes linked to the development of the disorder. 

According to the study, researchers analyzed blood from 38 people with the syndrome and 30 healthy people without the health condition.

The study found that natural killer cells were more active in patients with the syndrome. It also found that natural killer cells from Sjögren's syndrome patients tended to have a higher number of receptors, known as NKp30 receptors, on their surface. These receptors work by helping natural killer cells interact with other cells, and thus, trigger an immune response. As an immune response is necessary to fight infections, it's also harmful if directed at a person's own tissues.

Healthy individuals had a genetic marker linked with a reduced rate of the NKp30, which appears to be protective against the syndrome, according to researchers.

Background information from the study tells us that the NKp30 receptors also bind to help a small molecule that is produced on the surface of salivary-gland cells when the cells are stressed by things such as inflammation or infection. This interaction may play a role in the persistence of the disease, according to researchers.

At this time, there is no known cure for Sjögren's syndrome. However, treatments may include over-the-counter medications or prescription medications for dry eyes or mouth. Health officials also suggest staying hydrated to add moisture that may be lost due to the syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic.

More information regarding the study can be found in the journal Science Translational Medicine.  

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