DNA graphic

Zhijian Chen, PhD

UT Southwestern Medical Center
Molecular Biology

Roles of the cGAS pathway in Lupus

Lupus patients commonly have elevated levels of interferon, proteins that signal the presence of pathogens such as viruses, parasites or bacteria, and autoantibodies, antibodies which mistakenly attack good cells, that are targeted at DNA. This suggests that abnormal stimulation of the interferon pathway — which helps regulate the immune system’s response to foreign invaders — plays a significant role in lupus. Recently, their lab discovered a new enzyme called cGAS. When activated by attaching to DNA, the enzyme starts a chain of events that eventually induces the production of interferons and other molecules that stimulate the immune system. Dr. Chen proposes that activation of the cGAS pathway may be a major cause of lupus and that compounds that block cGAS activity may be developed into effective drugs for the treatment of lupus. His study aims to determine if cGAS could be used as a potential target for a new lupus medicine.


What this study means for people with lupus

Dr. Chen’s team has discovered an essential new process that alerts the immune system to viruses by sensing the presence of ‘foreign DNA within cells’. With the Distinguished Innovator Award, they will explore their hypothesis that this pathway malfunctions in lupus, causing the immune system to attack its own DNA.


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