In a finding that could help researchers better understand autoimmune disease,
scientists say a process called autophagy prompts dying embryonic stem cells to send out “eat me” and “come and get me” signals to ensure their elimination by healthy cells.

Their findings also suggest that defects in autophagy might trigger autoimmune
diseases and, if so, reversing the defects could potentially help treat such diseases, says Dr. Beth Levine, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas.

Her team described its findings in a study published in the March 8 online issue of Cell.

In mouse embryos incapable of activating autophagy, dying cells aren’t able to
produce the chemical signals that instruct healthy cells to remove them, the study
found. An accumulation of dead cells can result in abnormal development, inflammation and autoimmune disease.

Levine explained that the activation of autophagy in cells destined to die may serve to clear dead cells and prevent detrimental inflammation during normal development or when cell death occurs in certain diseases.

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