New research emerges on Sjogren's syndrome
SUMMARY: New research has surfaced finding a link between natural killer cells and Sjogren's syndrome.
Posted: July 25, 2013
Anyone who suffers from Sjogren's syndrome knows that dry mouth can be much more serious than just being thirsty. The rare condition causes severe dry eyes and mouth, and a new study out of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France found that it could be rooted in an improper function of immune cells called natural killer cells. Published in the July 24 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine, the study analyzed 38 people with the disorder and 30 people who were considered healthy.
Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that often accompanies other immune system disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, according to Mayo Clinic. While the syndrome can affect people of all ages, women over the age of 40 are most likely to experience the condition. The mucus-secreting glands and mucous membranes in the eyes and mouth are often the first to experience symptoms.
The research found that the natural killer cells in patients with Sjogren's syndrome were much more active than those in healthy patients. Additionally, the natural killer cells had more receptors, or NKp30 receptors, which could mean that they are more sensitive to incoming viruses.
What are natural killer cells?
When viruses and cancer attack the body, natural killer cells act as a guard to keep these harmful invaders away from the immune system. Unlike other cells in the immune system that take some time to prepare, natural killer cells are, well, "natural born killers" that can immediately recognize viruses and damage-inducing cells.
The body is constantly creating new killer cells in the body, and roughly 10 to 15 percent of lymphocytes are natural killer cells.
NKC and Sjogren's
While having more NKp30 receptors on natural killer cells could work better in protecting the body against some harmful cells, it may also damage a person's own tissues. When the glands are damaged, they are not able to properly produce tears and saliva, causing dry mouth. These receptors aid the natural killer cells to interact with other cells in the body in order to trigger a prompt response and fight infections. The receptors also work with molecules that are located on the surface of the salivary glands, which is why researchers believe that this plays a role in the Sjogren's disease.
According to the research, the healthy people who were studied had a genetic marker that acted as a protective barrier against Sjogren's. While currently there is no treatment for the disorder, scientists hope that this research can aid in finding a way to relieve symptoms. A drug that blocks the NKp30 receptors could possibly treat it because then they would not be able to attack other cells in the body.
Sjogren's syndrome can lead to a number of other ailments in the body and mouth, including an increased risk of dental caries, yeast infections and vision problems. Although doctors are unaware of why some people have more active natural killer cells than others, it is fairly certain that genes play a role. After causing dry mouth and eyes, the syndrome can damage other areas of the body including the thyroid, joints, kidneys, lungs, skin and nerves.
If you are suffering from Sjogren's, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can take to decrease the severity of the condition. For example, increasing the humidity in your home can keep the eyes and mouth from getting overly dried out. Sipping water frequently and avoiding things like smoking and alcohol can also help.