The Immune Fingerprint and Rheumatoid Disease

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Chicago first snowfallI’ve made up another term because I haven’t heard of anything suitable: “immune fingerprint.” It occurred to me that while we talk about how the disease Rheumatoid Arthritis (or Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease) affects us, one key to understanding disease activity may be considering how we affect the disease. If a disease disrupts the immune system, causing the body to attack itself, then the effect it has on the body could be largely based upon the particular immune system in question.

Let’s look at some simple examples. Think about the various ways which different immune systems (in different people) respond to a bee sting.

  • One person has a feverish red lump for a week.
  • Another person goes into anaphylactic shock.
  • A third person is perfectly well with no perceptible symptoms.

Someone was once amazed to discover that each person has a unique fingerprint. Later it was shown that we each also have a unique voiceprint, iris scan (eye fingerprint), and of course DNA sequence. Truly, the closer we’ve looked the more uniqueness, we’ve found.

Turning to our immune systems, consider the differences in the ways each person in a family responds to a simultaneous cold virus (yes, a virus can mutate).

  • They have measurably different levels of fever.
  • They have varying degrees of congestion.
  • The cold lasts a varying period of time.

If our immune systems are unique, it should not surprise us that we do not respond in identical ways to stimuli. This produces the variety we see with response to allergens in the environment or sensitivities to foods, of course. Our “immune fingerprint” is a plausible, albeit simple, explanation for this diversity.

When a disease like Rheumatoid prompts the immune system to accelerate its activity and malfunction by treating tissues in the host body as targets to be destroyed, we would not expect the results to be identical in each person.

  • They have differing patterns of swelling, tenderness, stiffness, pain, or weakness, fever, fatigue, redness, or rash.
  • They have dissimilar patterns of disease activity: constant versus flaring; a few joints versus all joints.
  • They have varying degrees and types of destruction in joints or organs.

The “immune fingerprint” is also one way to understand the differing responses people have to immune-altering treatments. A minority has an excellent response to current treatments, some do not respond at all, while some enjoy remission. It would seem to be ridiculous to imagine that only certain patterns of expression of the “immune fingerprint” are considered valid patterns of immune disease activity, whether it’s “conspicuous swelling” (another new term, two in one day!), CRP, fever, or something else. Of course, the hundreds of comments on just the posts linked below, and tens of thousands of others by our readers demonstrate the effects of the “immune fingerprint” with RA.


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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 4th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under RA Research, Resources, and Rheumatology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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