Three DNA strands are shown with dotted lines leading to highlighted portions in each strand. At the end of each dotted line is a flame.

Research Uncovers How DNA Affects Lupus Severity

Doctors and researchers are just beginning to understand the genetics behind lupus. Doctors still do not entirely understand exactly what causes people to develop lupus. They think that some of the main causes of lupus include genetics and environmental factors.1

People with lupus often cycle through flares of active disease and remission. Longer flares can cause organ damage and can signal that the condition may be progressing. Doctors want to understand what causes these flares of active disease and how they can better treat it.1

What does DNA have to do with lupus?

DNA is the building block of life. Every one of your cells holds the same DNA code. Your body turns on and off signals in your DNA through a process called methylation. Methylation is what your DNA uses to tell a cell to become a part of your fingernail instead of a cell in your heart or your hair. The methylation process is constantly happening as your body grows new cells.2

This methylation process does not always work correctly in people who have lupus. Because of this, the signals get jumbled up, meaning they do not turn on or off like they are supposed to. These jumbled signals can cause many of the symptoms of lupus.2

Lupus and DNA over time

A group of doctors decided to look at how lupus affected a person’s DNA over time. They also wanted to see if a person’s DNA could affect the severity of their lupus symptoms. They followed 54 people who had lupus for over 4 years to see how their DNA changed as their disease progressed.2

The doctors examined gene samples from people with lupus at multiple points in time over the 4 years. They studied 229 total samples. Doctors were able to pinpoint which sections of DNA are responsible for changes that cause kidney problems in people with lupus. This kidney dysfunction happens when the cells receive the incorrect methylation signal.1,2

Your DNA and lupus symptoms

Doctors also wanted to see if there was a genetic component to lupus. The samples were divided into people with African American and those with European American backgrounds. The doctors were able to see that people of African American backgrounds were more likely to have more active and severe disease. They were also more likely to have more methylations than the people with European American backgrounds.1

The doctors were able to determine that genetics do play a role in lupus. They also noted that genetics may play a role in how severe a person’s symptoms may be. This is especially true of patients from an African-American background.1,2

How will this help people with lupus?

It is important for doctors to understand what parts of the DNA are responsible for certain lupus symptoms. This information may help them to discover treatments for these lupus symptoms. Doctors may be able to use this information to create personalized treatments for people with lupus. They may eventually be able to base this treatment on the parts of the DNA affected by someone’s specific disease.

People with lupus know that there are many forms of lupus. Many people may experience different disease symptoms. Doctors can use the information they are learning about how DNA affects lupus to develop new treatments. Research like this brings us one step closer to better therapy for people with lupus.

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