Lupus (an autoimmune disease):

1) Systemic lupus erythematosus ("SLE") is a very serious, usually incurable and often fatal disease resulting (at least in large part) from production of a whole series of different anti-self antibodies, including antibodies against DNA (both double stranded and single stranded), phospholipids, collagen, histones and RNA. Note the contrast with most autoimmune diseases, in which only one self-antigen is attacked! SLE should not be confused with "Lupus vulgaris" which is a skin form of tuberculosis, and has nothing at all to do with SLE except superficial similarity of a few of their symptoms.

2) About 130,000 Americans are now being treated for SLE, although probably as many as a million Americans are affected by some form of this disease (including milder and more temporary forms, and some cases that are not diagnosed, as happened to Charles Kuralt).

3) Just over 90% of lupus victims are women, 90% of these are young women. Lupus also occurs in children, where the sex ratio is only about 1-3 boys to girls, and where the disease progresses more rapidly than in adults, and is usually fatal. In general, the later you get lupus, the less rapidly it will kill you; although even for young adult patients more than half of patients can be effectively treated (the disease being "managed" rather than cured). I have not yet found a number for fatalities per year, but it is somewhere in the thousands per year, perhaps five thousand per year (which would be a seventh or eighth as many fatalities as AIDS in this country, since these have now dropped back below 40,000 per year).

4) Lupus tends to "run in families": studies of sets of identical twins have reported frequencies from 26% to 70% (i.e. if one twin has the disease; in what % of cases does the other twin also get SLE?); immediate family members are thought to have around 5 or 10% probability (lower in males than females) of getting SLE but as much as 20 or 30% chance of getting some autoimmune disease, especially immune thyroiditis, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis! Increased frequencies of non-Hodgkins lymphoma have also been reported (but with much smaller %s).

5) "Nearly half the first degree relatives of my lupus patients have a positive ANA blood test" (test for antibodies against DNA and/or RNA-protein particles) quoted from "The Lupus Book" D.J. Wallace, Oxford Univ. Press 1995. About one-third of multiple sclerosis patients have positive ANA blood tests.

6) Higher frequencies of SLE are found among people with certain varieties of type II histocompatibility antigens, specifically DR3 and DR2. These same histocompatibility antigens are also correlated with multiple sclerosis, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis

7) Lupus varies in frequency by race, with blacks having a higher rate than whites; it occurs most frequently of all in American Indians, with the Sioux having by far the highest rates. It was said to occur more frequently in Asians than Caucasians, but recent reports contradicted this! "Facts" seem to be unusually unstable in this field!!

8) Diseases very similar to SLE, and perhaps with the same causes, have been found in dogs, mice, rabbits, and certain kinds of mink, among other mammals. Certain strains of mice and rabbits have been found in which lupus occurs at high enough rates so that these have become widely used systems for experimental study of SLE. (e.g. "New Zealand Black" strain mice; and most especially f1 hybrids between NZ Black and NZ White mice!)

9) "Drug induced Lupus" : Symptoms very similar (or identical?) to SLE (including anti-DNA, etc. antibodies in the blood!) are sometimes induced by certain drugs, especially procainamide (used to treat heart arrhythmias), isoniazid (an anti-tuberculosis drug), thorazine (a psychoactive drug), among others. Only around 1 patient per 1,000 treated with such a drug gets the temporary lupus, the symptoms of which almost always disappear when the person stops taking the drug. {A key question is what sort of mechanism eliminates the factors, antibodies in particular as well as the B cells that produce them!!}. There is some interesting evidence about what these different drugs have in common, including some inhibition of your old friend DNA methylation.

10) The "butterfly rash" : Around 30% of lupus victims develop a red rash on their face, especially below the eyes and on the nose (the area of inflamed skin often being shaped like a butterfly). Rashes can also occur on other parts of the skin.

11) Exposure to ultraviolet light (including merely ordinary sunshine) increases the skin rash and also worsens the other symptoms, including damage to blood vessels and kidneys (i.e. it seems not to be just a local effect). It is thought this may be an indirect effect of induced secretion of certain cytokines!

12) Existing treatments for SLE consist mostly of wholesale depression of the whole immune system with heavy doses of corticosteroids, and sometimes also certain "nitrogen mustard" drugs otherwise used for cancer chemotherapy (such as some that cross-link guanines in DNA, hereby blocking cell division and selectively killing faster growing cells). Some anti-malarial drugs related to quinine also produce some improvement, but I haven't yet read any logical explanations for why they should work; they just do.