Magazine article Science News

Gene Therapy for Arthritis Works in Rats

Magazine article Science News

Gene Therapy for Arthritis Works in Rats

Article excerpt

Cytokines are proteins that mediate communication between cells. In an immune response, they rally the body's white blood cells to an injury or infection site. One cytokine, called transforming growth factor (TGF) beta, often acts as the level-headed protein of the group, encouraging the troops not to overpopulate a region and cause inflammation.

Scientists studying arthritis now find that injecting laboratory rats with genes that encode TGF-beta protein can reduce inflammation in the rodent's joints. In the rats' muscle cells, these strings of DNA spur the rats' own cells to manufacture the protein, slowing the animals' arthritis, the researchers report in the June 15 Journal of Clinical Investigation.

While such gene therapy for arthritis is still many years away from widespread use, scientists have pursued it in human and animal studies in the hope of replacing anti-inflammatory drugs that cause side effects. Most gene therapy researchers use one of two kinds of viruses, adenoviruses and retroviruses, as delivery vehicles carrying desirable DNA. Neither, however, is perfect. Adenoviruses, in fact, can themselves ignite inflammation, the very condition being treated in arthritis.

In this study, researchers left the viruses out, using DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria to transport human TGF-beta DNA. "We thought we would [use] the naked DNA, without the viral vector," says study coauthor Sharon M. Wahl, an immunologist at the National Institute of Dental Research in Bethesda, Md. …

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