Sjögren’s syndrome affects nearly 4 million Americans. In addition to dry mouth, its negative outcomes include profound fatigue, chronic pain, cognitive impairment, and possibly disability. Researchers at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta, though, have identified a gene that may indicate a predisposition to developing the disease.
Patients with Sjögren’s syndrome have fewer Del-1 molecules, which typically help to reduce inflammation, the researchers found. Also, those with Sjögren’s have more IL-17 molecules, which can cause inflammation. This imbalance may lead to the symptoms associated with tissue inflammation.
“We believe that imbalance between Del-1 and IL-17 is at the heart of the pathology of Sjögren’s syndrome,” said Dr. Babak Baban, one of the primary researchers. “We are of the opinion that the Del-1/IL-17 relationship can serve as the basis of early diagnosis as well as help target the use of effective novel therapies.”
“A dry mouth may seem to be more of a nuisance rather than a serious medical problem,” said Dr. Mahmood Mozaffari, a co-researcher. “However, a lack of adequate saliva makes it difficult to chew and swallow, and it makes the oral cavity susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.”
Sjögren’s syndrome not only attacks the salivary and lacrimal glands, it also affects the entire body. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. Early diagnosis may prevent serious complications and improve the patient’s quality of life, but diagnosis can take an average of 3.5 years, according to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation.
Mozaffari and Baban have submitted a patent application for a predictive, diagnostic, and prognostic kit that will address relevant and pressing issues regarding Sjögren’s syndrome.