A targeted approach for treating Sjögren’s syndrome

2020

Challenge

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells mistakenly attack and damage cells in the glands that produce tears and saliva. As a result, the glands become inflamed and produce less fluid, leading to symptoms of dryness in the eyes and mouth. For people with the condition, dry mouth affects taste, makes chewing and swallowing more difficult, and increases the risk for cavities, tooth loss, and oral infections. There are currently no effective treatments for this loss of saliva.

Advance

Researchers in the lab of IRP senior investigator Jay Chiorini, Ph.D., studied samples from Sjögren’s patients and determined that a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP6) was produced at elevated levels in more than half of them.  Experiments with human salivary cells and mice revealed that over-production of BMP6 reduced salivary flow and treatment with BMP6 inhibitors improved salivary function.

Impact

BMP6 inhibitors can now be investigated as a clinical therapy for Sjogren's patients who have elevated levels of BMP6. Such a treatment would improve their lack of salivary flow and ward off further dental decay. In addition, now that there is evidence that BMP6 inhibitors relieve the oral symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, it is also possible to study whether a systemic treatment such as this can help patients re-regulate their immune system in ways that direct treatments designed to improve salivary flow cannot.

Publications

Yin H, Kalra L, Lai Z, Guimaro MC, Aber L, Warner BM, Michael D, Zhang N, Cabrera-Perez J, Karim A, Swaim WD, Afione S, Voigt A, Nguyen CQ, Yu PB, Bloch DB, Chiorini JA. (2020). Inhibition of bone morphogenetic protein 6 receptors ameliorates Sjögren’s syndrome in mice. Sci Rep. Feb 19;10(1):2967. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-59443-z.