Newswise — There has been an outbreak of an adult-onset immunodeficiency syndrome in Southeast Asia. The autoimmune disease causes AIDS-like symptoms but is not associated with HIV and is not contagious.

The disease causes patients’ bodies to produce antibodies that attack their own immune systems. Dr. Sarah Browne, a clinical investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH and the lead author on the study, says that we all have molecules and proteins that tell different immune cells when to start fighting infection. A large number of the patients studied with serious opportunistic infections make an antibody that blocks the function of one of these molecules. The molecule is called interferon-gamma. Without functioning interferon-gamma, people become more susceptible to certain types of infections -- infections people with working immune systems normally don't get. Interferon-gamma is a protein that helps the body fight off infections. In those diagnosed, the immune system has begun treating interferon-gamma as an enemy and makes an autoantibody against it, thus making it an autoimmune condition.

“These findings provide new opportunities to understand the relationship between immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases, the topic of a recent AARDA-sponsored international symposium,” says Dr. Noel Rose, the director of the Johns Hopkins Autoimmune Disease Research Center.

Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), believes that there needs to be much more research into the possible connection between immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases.

“It could unlock some of the unknown disease mechanisms that might be shared between these two seemingly opposite immune disorders. The findings in this study would indicate that it is a ripe area for medical research which could lead to earlier diagnosis of autoimmune diseases as it could be possible that these antibodies are present long before the disease presents symptoms. There are so many new research opportunities in this area,” she says.

About AARDA AARDA is the only national nonprofit health agency dedicated to bringing a national focus to autoimmunity, the major cause of serious chronic diseases. Approximately 50 million Americans, 20 percent of the population or one in five people, suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be affected; some estimates say that 75 percent of those affected--some 30 million people--are women. Still, with these statistics, autoimmunity is rarely discussed as a women's health issue.