More MS news articles for April 1999

Study: Mother's Cells May Cause Autoimmune Disease

Wednesday April 21 2:09 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - American scientists believe that mothers could cause autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the New Scientist magazine reported Wednesday.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle say autoimmune diseases may be triggered by maternal cells that could remain in an offspring's body since conception.

J. Lee Nelson and scientists at the university have discovered that a woman's cells can cross over to a fetus and survive for decades. So far Nelson has not proved that the maternal cells cause autoimmune diseases but she is confident they play a big part, said the weekly magazine.

Autoimmune diseases are puzzling illnesses that occur when people develop antibodies which attack their own system. Scientists do not know what causes the disorders, because normally the immune system only attacks foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

Nelson and her colleagues think a child's immune system may recognize the stray maternal cells as foreign and launch an immune reaction. They discovered maternal cells in a 47-year-old man who was suffering from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that makes the skin leathery and can damage internal organs.

"The researchers also looked at blood from a 15-year-old boy with lupus, another autoimmune disease that attacks the skin, using a technique that stains X chromosomes one color and Y chromosomes another. They were able to find a female cell, which has two X chromosomes," the magazine said.