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TLR8 protein may cause pregnancy complications in lupus patients


A human protein involved in activation of the immune system could cause pregnancy complications in women with lupus, according to findings shared today in an oral presentation at the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professional's (ACR/ARHP) Annual Meeting in Chicago. Feinstein Institute for Medical Research scientist Naomi I. Maria, PhD, identified the connection in a mouse model, the first step to developing new therapies which could give hope to pregnant women with lupus – along with their unborn children.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease typically first diagnosed in women 15-44 that causes the immune system to become hyperactive, attacking healthy tissue and causing inflammation and damage to joints, skin and internal organs. In pregnant women, lupus can also cause dangerous complications like pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure and fluid retention) and antiphospholipid syndrome where abnormalities in the placenta cause the baby to grow at a slower than normal rate, leading to low birth weight or even miscarriage. The reason why the placenta is impacted in women with lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome is not yet understood, but it is thought that a protein called toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8) might play a role.

In this current study, Dr. Maria, Feinstein Institute Professor Anne Davidson, MBBS, and their lab looked at how the human form of TLR8 affects pregnancy in mice with lupus. They observed an association between human TLR8 and loss of pregnancy and fetal and maternal death only in mice that also had lupus and anti-phospholipid antibodies but not in normal mice. This indicated that this protein could be a factor in pregnancy complications in lupus.

"It's important that we found this association because it is a first step to understanding this toll-like receptor's role in causing pregnancy complications in women with lupus," said Dr. Maria. "With lupus first occurring in women of childbearing age, it is important to understand how the disease affects pregnancy to help prevent or avoid complications for mother and unborn child."

Along with the study's findings linking the relationship between TLR8 and pregnancy complications in those with lupus, the mouse model created can be used in future studies examining mechanisms of placenta damage in lupus and pregnancy.

"Dr. Maria embodies our mission to produce knowledge to cure disease," Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute. "Her presentation at ACR/ARHP is a recent example of that mission."

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About the Feinstein Institute
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest health care provider in New York. Home to 50 research laboratories and to clinical research throughout dozens of hospitals and outpatient facilities, the Feinstein Institute includes 4,000 researchers and staff who are making breakthroughs in molecular medicine, genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we empower imagination and pioneer discovery, visit

Heather E. Ball Mayer
[email protected]