0826 GMT March 25, 2019
Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti, from The University of Western Australia and the Lions Eye Institute, said the research proved a link between chronic viral infection and autoimmune disease.
"This is a very significant discovery because we now know more about the pathways that lead to disease," Professor Degli-Esposti said, investorstemcell.com reported.
Research found that chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection could lead to the development of Sjogren's (SHOW-grins) syndrome.
CMV - a member of the herpes family - is a common viral infection that causes mild flu-like symptoms in healthy people but can lead to more serious illness in those with compromised immune systems.
Between 50 and 80 percent of people in developed countries are infected with CMV. Although normally innocuous, given the right genetic background, chronic viral infection with CMV can trigger autoimmunity.
"Sjogren's syndrome (SS) is the second most common autoimmune disease in humans, affecting up to three per cent of the population or more than four million people in the United States alone," Professor Degli-Esposti said.
"It affects the function of salivary and lacrimal glands and leads to a debilitating disease characterised by the loss of saliva and tear production."
"We have now gained critical insights into the pathways that need to be targeted to provide improved treatments for a common and debilitating human condition."
Professor Degli-Esposti said this new research was highly significant because it had identified a cause of SS, and in doing so, demonstrated a novel, unknown function of an immune cell population.