Friday, March 3, 2017

Autoimmunity in nodding syndrome

Nature: In Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan, nodding syndrome causes children's heads to drop and results in epileptic seizures, cognitive impairment and sometimes death. Although people with the syndrome are often infected with the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus (pictured), researchers have not found a causal link between the two.
Now, a team led by Avindra Nath at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, has discovered that people with nodding syndrome have higher levels of antibodies against a protein called leiomodin-1 than do healthy people from the same village. The researchers show that leiomodin-1 is made by human neurons and by key parts of the mouse brain. This protein is structurally similar to those made by O. volvulus, and antibodies that react against O. volvulus do the same against leiomodin-1, suggesting an autoimmune response.
People with the syndrome currently receive anti-epilepsy drugs, but the findings suggest that they might also benefit from therapies that modulate the immune system, the authors say.
Sci. Transl. Med. 9, eaaf6953 (2017)