MicroRNA Levels Could Help Diagnose Lupus Nephritis and Lead to Treatments, Study Reports

Ashraf Malhas, PhD avatar

by Ashraf Malhas, PhD |

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Abnormal levels of microRNA in the blood of lupus nephritis patients could help doctors diagnose the kidney disorder and scientists develop therapies for it, a study reports.

MicroRNA helps genes regulate the production of proteins and other substances.

The study, “Profiling analysis of circulating microRNA in peripheral blood of patients with class IV lupus nephritis,” was published in the journal Plos One.

Scientists have yet to obtain a full understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the kidney disorder. Some research has suggested that microRNAs play a role in lupus patients developing the condition, but scientists don’t know how they do this.

Doctors usually diagnose lupus nephritis with a biopsy. But obtaining a biopsy is invasive, so the medical profession would welcome an alternative.

MicroRNA profiling could provide that option. Scientists might also be able to develop therapies around microRNA.

Researchers at Simon Bolívar University in Colombia decided to create a microRNA profile of lupus nephritis.

They analyzed blood samples from four people with the kidney disorder, 10 from lupus patients without nephritis, and seven controls.

The team identified abnormal levels of 24 microRNAs in lupus nephritis patients, compared with controls. The levels of 16 were higher and eight lower. Scientists had never linked 14 of the microRNAs to lupus nephritis.

When the researchers compared microRNA levels of nephritis patients with those of lupus patients, they found significant differences in only two microRNAs. The same was true of differences in levels between lupus patients and controls.

MicroRNA regulates protein production by targeting specific RNA transcripts — intermediate links between DNA and proteins. So the researchers also decided to identify the RNA transcripts of the microRNAs whose levels were abnormal.

Altogether, they identified 48 microRNAs, 259 genes and 45 transcription factors associated with lupus nephritis. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate genes’ activity and, when abnormal, can lead to disease.

Changes in microRNA levels could reflect alterations in the mechanisms that underlie lupus nephritis before the disease appears, the researchers wrote. “The findings thus contribute to understanding the disease process and are likely to pave the way towards identifying disease biomarkers for early diagnosis” of the kidney condition, they concluded.