Tuesday October 30 5:22 PM ET
"Autoimmune-Disease Proteins Higher After Pregnancy"
Autoimmune-Disease Proteins Higher After Pregnancy
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who suffer from
autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple
sclerosis may find relief during pregnancy but their symptoms
may become even worse after they give birth.
Now, a preliminary study suggests that increased levels of
certain stress hormones during the final trimester of pregnancy
may suppress immune system proteins involved in inflammation, a
hallmark of autoimmune disorders. But in the weeks after
pregnancy, levels of these hormones fall sharply, resulting in
higher levels of inflammatory proteins that may contribute to
arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
"This finding has important implications for understanding
why immune disorders may subside during pregnancy but flare up
again after birth," Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(NICHD) in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a prepared statement.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body's immune system
attacks the central nervous system and destroys myelin, the
protective coating that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and
spine. The destruction of myelin can lead to numbness, muscle
weakness and stiffness. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune
system attacks the lining of the joints, causing pain,
stiffness and inflammation. There is no cure for either
In the new study, researchers led by Dr. Ilia J. Elenkov of
Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC,
measured levels of various immune system proteins in the blood
of 18 healthy pregnant women during their third trimester and
in the weeks after birth.
According to results published in the October issue of the
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, levels of
interleukin-12 (IL-12) were about three times lower in the
final trimester of pregnancy compared with levels measured
after birth. Similarly, levels of tumor necrosis factor
(TNF)-alpha were about 40% lower during the third trimester.
IL-12 and TNF-alpha are proteins that trigger the body's immune
system to fight disease but are also involved in the swelling
and tissue destruction that marks autoimmune disorders.
Meantime, levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and
1,25-dihydroxyvitamin were higher in the third trimester
compared with levels measured after birth. Previous studies
have shown that these hormones can suppress levels of IL-12 and
TNF-alpha, the researchers explain.
While further studies are needed, the findings may
ultimately help scientists to understand the processes involved
in autoimmune disorders and develop new treatments for
conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis,
the NICHD's Alexander said.
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
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