TAIPEI, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- A team of scientists from Taiwan uncovered how the human gene "HLA-B27" triggered ankylosing spondylitis, which might lead to symptoms of "bamboo spine," leading them to find a promising new cure for the disease.
A collaborated research team, led by Dr. Lin Kuo-i with Genomics Research Center of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, announced Friday they found the gene HLA-B27 triggers a miscoding protein response and then a series of abnormal signal transductions, which eventually causes an isozyme called "tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase" (TNAP) to be highly activated.
The elevated TNAP was demonstrated to be the cause of bone-like cell formation around a person's spine, the research team said in a press release.
The researchers found that two existing medicines, Levamisole used to treat ascarid infection and Pamidronate used for bone loss, suppress TNAP and block bone formation.
The researchers also injected the mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from patients' irregular bone-like cells on the spine into immunodeficient mice. They found that after three weeks the mice reproduced bone formations on their spine. After being fed medicines to suppress TNAP, the formation of bone stopped.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine and causes inflammation of the spinal joints that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. In more advanced cases, this inflammation can lead to new bone formation in the spine, causing sections of the spine to fuse in a fixed, immobile position, commonly known as bamboo spine.
About 95 to 99 percent of ankylosing spondylitis patients carry the HLA-B27 gene.
Current treatment of ankylosing spondylitis is centered around blocking inflammation, but bone-like cells may still grow, and patients can still develop bamboo spine, said Dr. Liu Chin-hsiu, a member of the research team and the first author of the research paper, which was published on the Journal of Clinical Investigation's website in November.
"Our research may point out a new direction to treat the disease by suppressing the elevated TNAP," Liu said. "The two medicines were only used on mice in our research. We will need more research to use the medications on human patients."
The research also offered a new way to predict which patients will develop bamboo spine symptoms as the disease progresses. They found that the level of TNAP in patients' serum can be a biomarker for disease progression.