Researchers at the Temple University School of Medicine (TUSM) in Philadelphia have uncovered new information surrounding systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and how gut bacteria could potentially trigger diseases and autoimmune conditions.
These insights into SLE and biofilm activity could provide valuable intelligence for other autoimmune conditions, including Alopecia Areata.
What are biofilms?
Described by the Collins English Dictionary as ‘a thin layer of living organisms’, the term ‘biofilm’ refers to any group of miccroorganisms in which cells stick together on a surface.
According to a report in Lupus News Today, TUSM researchers wanted to expand on previous studies which examined biofilms in relation to ‘bacterial deposition, protection and antibiotic resistance acquired by groups of bacteria due to formation of these structures’.
Results from this latest study showed how bacterial communities which form biofilms play a part in the development of SLE and noted that this discovery may ‘provide important insights on autoimmune diseases as a whole’.
Although lupus can cause hair loss due to scarring of the scalp, this cannot generally be treated as hair cannot grow through scar tissue. However, as Alopecia Areata is also an autoimmune condition, these findings could help further our understanding of this type of hair loss.
Although there are alopecia areata treatments, there is currently no cure and no confirmed reason as to why the condition, which pauses the hair growth cycle, leading to patchy hair loss, comes about. Therefore, the more information that can be gathered, the better the chance of finding out what causes alopecia areata and developing a cure.
Studying the effect of biofilms on lupus
TUSM’s Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Çagla Tükel, PhD, and Associate Chair, Microbiology and Immunology, as well as an Associate Professor in Microbiology and Immunology, Stefania Gallucci, MD, are both members of the Temple Autoimmune Centre, and headed up the biofilm research team.
Together they investigated the effects on SLE of biofilm formations caused by Eschereichia coli (E.coli) and Salmonella typhimurium – common types of bacteria associated with food poisoning.
Gut bacteria forms biofilms in the alimentary canal either on urinary catheters or as dental plaques. Lupus Today reports how the study discovered that some of these biofilms ‘have DNA excreted by E.coli and Salmonella, along with proteins known as amyloids’. Together these amyloids and excreted DNA formed strong, hard-to-break bonds.
Biofilms formed as a result of amyloids are known as ‘curli’ and it was found that this DNA-curli complex is at the core of autoimmune attacks on the SLE host.
When the team studied mice who were genetically predisposed to SLE, they found that the immune cells (dendritic cells) released large quantities of pro-inflammatory cytokines (which induce autoimmune responses), when they came into contact with the DNA-curli complexes.
Researchers found that when they tested different classes of mice, both with and without a genetic propensity to lupus, all the mice developed SLE ‘with varying severities upon injection with these DNA-curli complexes’.
Applying findings to other autoimmune conditions
Following the team’s discovery that as many as 55 per cent of lupus flare-ups were caused by bacterial infections, they concluded bacterial biofilms do indeed play a crucial role in developing autoimmune conditions in host systems.
The authors note that further research on this topic could shed ‘considerable light on other autoimmune conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes‘.
“The next step is to explore the mechanism of how these composites are stimulating autoimmunity,” Dr. Tükel said. “The beneficial bacteria found in our guts can cause problems when they cross the intestinal barrier and reach to places they shouldn’t be. Thus, besides infectious bacteria, a leaky gut could cause many problems. We are now starting to understand how the bacteria in our gut may trigger complex human diseases including lupus. So it’s critical for us to understand the biology of the bacterial communities and their interactions with the immune system.”
Dr. Gallucci added, “Understanding how biofilms trigger autoimmunity may ultimately lead to changes in patient treatment… So understanding how the biofilms affect flares could lead to a different treatment approach. Now, they give immune suppressive drugs. Maybe you want to do something else, like treat the underlying infection.”
Senior Belgravia trichologist, Leonora Doclis, says of the study, “This is interesting – the main difference between the scarring hair loss of lupus and alopecia areata is that the follicles gets damaged in lupus, while it is the hair that gets attached in alopecia areata leaving the follicles intact but dormant. These findings give a glimmer of hope for future treatments of both scarring and non-scarring hair loss due to autoimmune attack.”
There have been a number of autoimmune study breakthroughs recently – from establishing a new neurological link between the brain and the immune system, to research into Lyme disease uncovering how autoimmune conditions can ‘trick’ the body so that it doesn’t launch a counter-attack. Hopefully, as autoimmune intelligence increases, so too will the likelihood of creating a cure for these conditions, including Alopecia Areata.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.