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Diseases occur when the network of regulatory autoantibodies gets out of balance


A working group from the Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces" gains fundamentally new insights into the origin of disease 

Autoantibodies, i.e. antibodies directed against the body's own structures, are usually associated with autoimmune diseases like rheumatism. However, they are in fact a normal part of the immune system in healthy people. There is apparently a network of autoantibodies, which are fine-tuned with each other to regulate many processes in the body, and can for example influence inflammatory processes. In diseases, this network of functional antibodies is disturbed, as Lübeck Professor Gabriela Riemekasten and her team at the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) have demonstrated, using the example of three very different diseases (Alzheimer's disease, ovarian cancer and systemic sclerosis). In their recently-published article in Nature Communication, the team from the Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces" revealed that the disturbances in the antibody network are characteristic for each disease examined, and in accordance with already-known disease mechanisms. "Our study provides a fundamentally new understanding of the origin of diseases, and can explain the very close and individual interaction between environment, genetic factors and disease development," emphasised the Rheumatologist from the University of Lübeck. 

Antibodies are especially known for their role in intercepting and destroying invading pathogens (antigens). They are an integral part of the immune system, and serve mainly to fight infections. Autoantibodies are considered to be undesirable, because they target the body's own healthy tissue and can thereby cause damage. They are a characteristic feature of autoimmune diseases. The precise role of autoantibodies in the origin and development of many autoimmune diseases is not fully understood. Because autoantibodies are also found even in healthy people who do not develop autoimmune diseases. In addition, there are also "useful" autoantibodies, which protect against immune-mediated diseases, for example. "In the study published in Nature Communication, we have identified a network of autoantibodies which can affect the functioning of receptors, growth factors and signalling molecules, and is present in every human," explained Professor Gabriela Riemekasten from the Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces". The autoantibodies therefore have controlling functions over immune cells, and appear to be sensitive to environmental factors such as nutrition, which affect their concentration and composition. "The antibody network is influenced by age, gender and external factors, and is especially important for diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and rheumatic diseases." 

For the study, blood samples from people with Alzheimer's disease, ovarian cancer and systemic sclerosis (a rheumatic disease), as well as healthy individuals were compared. In particular, a special group of functional autoantibodies, so-called GPCR autoantibodies, was comprehensively characterised. Riemekasten added: "The function of these antibodies, and also their structures identified, suggest that these antibodies are directly involved in the pathogenesis of these diseases. This has already been demonstrated for individual diseases. If it is possible to discover the exact effects of the antibodies on their receptors, new treatment options may become available for numerous diseases." The functions of these antibodies will be investigated further in future in cooperation with the Research Center Borstel - Leibniz Lung Center, within the new Cluster of Excellence “Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation”. The primary goal is to determine their value for individualised therapy.


Original publication
Otavio Cabral-Marques, Alexandre Marques, […] Gabriela Riemekasten et al. GPCR-specific autoantibody signatures are associated with physiological and pathological immune homeostasis. Nature Communications 2018; 9:5224. Doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-07598-9


Prof. Dr Gabriela Riemekasten
Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, UKSH Lübeck
Tel.: 0451/500-45200


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 Gabriela Riemekasten

Gabriela Riemekasten, Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces", professor of rheumatology and inflammatory systemic diseases at the University of Lübeck, Director of the Department of Rheumatology, University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Lübeck. Photo: Private


Press contact:
Kerstin Nees
Tel.: (040) 8320998, E-mail:


The Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces" has been funded since 2007 by the Excellence Initiative of the German Government and the federal states with a total budget of 68 million Euros and ends in 2018. In 2019, it continues with a new research orientation, and funding through the Excellence Strategy. The aim of the new Cluster of Excellence “Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation” (PMI) is to draw on the multifaceted research approach to chronic inflammatory diseases of barrier organs, and transfer this interdisciplinarity more to healthcare. Around 300 members from eight institutes at four locations are involved: Kiel (Kiel University, University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), Muthesius University, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN)), Lübeck (University of Lübeck, UKSH), Plön (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology) and Borstel (Research Center Borstel - Leibniz Lung Center).


Cluster of Excellence "Inflammation at Interfaces"
Scientific Office, Head: Dr habil. Susanne Holstein
Postal address: Christian-Albrechts-Platz 4, 24118 Kiel, Germany
Contact: Sonja Petermann
Tel.: +49 (0)431 880-4850, Fax: +49 (0)431 880-4894
Twitter: I@I@medinflame

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