Diabetes Unraveled; The Fifth Autoantigen

Diabetes has been known to be caused by the immune system’s response to four specific molecules (called autoantigens) for quite some time [1]. However, some have felt that there are problems with the current model (as discussed at length here [2]), leading others to seek more complete answers. This spurred doctors from Italy and United Kingdom to ask themselves: how can we more fully understand diabetes? In the stunning paper they co-authored[3], they describe a fifth autoantigen responsible for the brutal disease, summarized by The Huffington Post [4]:

“The discovery that tetraspanin-7 is a major target of immunity in diabetes now provides us with a complete picture of what the immune system recognizes in individual patients, will assist in identifying individuals at risk through detection of antibodies to the protein and will allow the development of procedures to block the tetraspanin-7 immune response as part of a strategy to prevent the disease,” Christie told The Huffington Post on Monday.

Diabetes is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. For people with Type 1 diabetes — about 1.25 million children and adults in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association — this is because the body fails to produce any or enough insulin, a hormone that helps to take sugar from the blood to other parts of the body.

The disease is currently treated with insulin injections. Children who develop Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin several times a day for the rest of their lives and constantly monitor their blood glucose. Yet they’re still at risk of experiencing complications affecting their eyes, feet, circulation or nervous system, Christie said.


For the research, published last month in the journal Diabetes, scientists analyzed blood samples from patients with Type 1 diabetes, and used the antibodies linked to tetraspanin-7 to identify the molecule. They also collected some previous data on the properties of the molecule.

When the researchers were able to bind patients’ antibodies to tetraspanin-7, they knew they had made a groundbreaking discovery.

“We were surprised that we were finally able to discover the identity of the target of antibodies in Type 1 diabetes after such a long period, with many groups worldwide on the hunt for it during this time,” Christie said. “We almost gave up at one stage — our initial test for binding of patients’ antibodies to tetraspanin-7 was negative! — but we then realized that perhaps the test we were using was flawed, so we tried a different approach which worked nicely.”

For more, check out the original paper here, or the Huffington Post article here. Or, for more knowledge about diabetes, check out our article on the negative effects of over-exerting self-control as a diabetes patient here!

[1]CSH Perspectives
[2]Journal of the Society for Biomedical Diabetes Research
[4]The Huffington Post
[Original Image]PixaBay

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