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rheumatology learning center

RheumDoctor Learning Center

RheumDoctor Learning Center: What is a cytokine?

May 31, 2017
A picture of interleukin 6 a cytokine thought to be involved in giant cell arteritis

A cytokine is a type of protein in the body that helps cells communicate.  Here are some types of cytokines:

  • Lymphokines: Cytokines produced by lymphocytes
  • Monokines: Cytokines produced by monocytes
  • Chemokines: Cytokines that attract other cells
  • Interleukin (IL-): Cytokines produced by leukocytes that help regulate the immune system.

Sometimes cells make cytokines and those cytokines directly affect them.  This is autocrine action.  If the cell makes a cytokine and it affects a nearby cell, this is paracrine action.  Finally, if a cell makes a cytokine and it affects distant cells, this is endocrine action.

How are cytokines and autoimmune diseases related?

Researchers have identified many cytokines such as IL-1β, IL-6, IL-17, and TNF-α that play an important role in autoimmune diseases.  This information is then used to make biologic medications that specifically block problematic cytokines.


Image of interleukin 6 molecule by Ramin Herati [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

RheumDoctor Learning Center

RheumDoctor Learning Center: What is the microbiome?

May 17, 2017
How the microbiome affects the immune system

The microbiome refers to the combined genetic material of a group of microorganisms found in a certain body part such as the gut, respiratory tract, skin, or genitourinary system.

Symbiosis refers to a relationship between organisms that are beneficial for one another.

Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of different microorganisms.  It is the opposite of a state of symbiosis.

How the microbiome and autoimmune diseases relate?

There appears to be an association between autoimmune dieaseses and dysbiosis, such as inflammatory bowel disease, spondyloarthritis, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis.  It is still unclear whether autoimmune diseases cause dysbiosis or whether dysbiosis causes autoimmune diseases, let alone how we can use this information to treat and prevent autoimmune diseases.

Ultimately we need more research.  We live in interesting times!  Please leave your comments below!


National Human Genome Research Institute


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