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Our body is a very sophisticated piece of machinery which is designed to overcome even the worst conditions. It is composed by several systems that regulate every activity that our body performs. One of these systems is the immune system, which acts as a well-organized army that keeps any harmful living or non-living thing under control, preventing our body from being damaged.
Unfortunately, as any other machine, our body can sometimes start working wrong and instead of helping us in maintaining the right balance, it can cause severe damage to its own tissues and organs. This is the case of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease caused by an alteration in the immune system of patients that suffer from the illness.
The immune system in a healthy person
In a normal person, the immune system reacts against microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, fungus and parasites and other non-living particles, such as pollen or specific substances in certain foods, that could potentially harm any tissue.
Immune cells detect antigens and they immediately put in action their plan or plans of attack. This reaction involves diverse defense mechanisms, including inflammation, which main objective is to get rid of whatever is causing an alteration in the normal balance of the body functions. A
When the immune system is stimulated by one or more antigens, it is active until the potential threat is eliminated; after this, the immune system returns to its normal state, patrolling all our body and ensuring everything is working properly.
The immune system going crazy
What happens in patients suffering from SLE? This disease is caused by a lack of tolerance from our immune system towards our own antigens.
One of these reactions is the production of antibodies, or in this case, autoantibodies, which are proteins that attach to the antigens in order to flag them and attract killer immune cells towards them. The production of autoantibodies is really intense, and they tend to gather and deposit in various organs, promoting the recruitment of immune cells to the site.
Why is this bad? Well, during inflammation, immune cells start releasing several substances, called cytokines. Some of them have the ability to recruit more immune cells to the site where the damage was detected; others are in charge of attacking the microorganisms directly. When the inflammatory response is chronic, these substances start damaging the patient’s organs where the autoantibodies deposit.