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Are Damaged Mitochondria Causing Autoimmune Diseases?

Fluoroquinolone toxicity looks and feels a lot like multiple autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS, thyroid autoimmune diseases, and others. Some people have proposed that fluoroquinolone toxicity is its own autoimmune disease, but the auto-antibodies have not yet been identified and thus it is not treated as an independent autoimmune disease. In some people, fluoroquinolones have triggered a recognized autoimmune disease, as you can read about in Michelle’s Story of fluoroquinolone-induced lupus, JMR’s story of fluoroquinolone-induced thyroid autoimmune diseases, and I know a couple people with fluoroquinolone-induced MS.

I have always wondered what the connections are between fluoroquinolone toxicity and autoimmune diseases, whether or not fluoroquinolones are truly triggering autoimmune diseases generally, and what the mechanism is behind the connection.

A recent article in Scientific American, Brain’s Dumped DNA May Lead to Stress, Depression: New research suggests genetic material from the mitochondria can trigger an immune response throughout the body provides some interesting connections (and, dare I say, answers). The article points out that mitochondrial DNA, when it is released from mitochondria, can cause inflammation and an immune response:

“But how was this inflammation triggered by mitochondrial DNA leaking out of cells? A 2010 Nature paper provided the answer: In it researchers demonstrated the way mitochondrial DNA, when released into the blood after an injury, mobilized a pro-inflammatory immune response. Because of mitochondria’s bacterial origin and its circular DNA structure, immune cells think it’s a foreign invader.  When circulating mitochondrial DNA binds to a particular receptor, TLR9, on immune cells, they respond as if they were reacting to a foreign invader such as a flu virus or an infected wound. The immune cells release chemicals called cytokines telling other white blood cells they need to report for duty at sites of infection, inflammation or trauma.”

Multiple studies have shown that fluoroquinolones disrupt the replication and reproduction cycles of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and deplete mtDNA. Of course they do – mitochondria are descendants of bacteria and drugs that affect bacterial DNA have similar effects on mtDNA. The way that fluoroquinolones work is that they disrupt the DNA and RNA replication cycles for bacteria (and mitochondria).

When mitochondrial DNA is released via fluoroquinolones (or a variety of other pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins that also damage mitochondria) the immune system attacks it because it appears to the immune system to be bacterial DNA. This attack of loose mtDNA can lead to an immune-system over-response, and even trigger an autoimmune disease.

The Scientific American article also notes that:

“The genetic cast-offs are not just inert cellular waste. “This circulating mitochondrial DNA acts like a hormone,” says Martin Picard, a psychobiologist at Columbia University, who has been studying mitochondrial behavior and the cell-free mitochondrial DNA for the better part of the last decade. Ejection of mitochondrial DNA from the cell mimics somewhat adrenal glands’ release of cortisol in response to stress, he says. Certain cells produce the circulating mitochondrial DNA and, as with the adrenal glands, its release is also triggered by stress.”

To emphasize – “circulating mitochondrial DNA acts like a hormone” that “mimics somewhat adrenal glands’ release of cortisol in response to stress.” So many people suffering from fluoroquinolone toxicity are in vicious cycles of chronic stress and anxiety that are wreaking further havoc on their health. The post, “Cellular Stress, Chronic Stress, and Fluoroquinolone Toxicity” goes into more detail about the connections between stress and anxiety and fluoroquinolone toxicity.

Fluoroquinolones aren’t the only toxins that damage mtDNA. The list of pharmaceuticals that damage mtDNA include all bactericidal antibiotics (including fluoroquinolones) (1), statins (2), chemotherapy drugs (3), acetaminophen (4), metformin (a diabetes drug) (5), and others. The environmental pollutants that have been shown to damage mitochondria include rotenone, cyanide, lipopolysaccharide, PAH quinones, arsenic, and many others (6).

I would bet quite a bit that the rise in autoimmune diseases corresponds with the rise in production of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that are toxic to mitochondria. The Scientific American article, Brain’s Dumped DNA May Lead to Stress, Depression: New research suggests genetic material from the mitochondria can trigger an immune response throughout the body, provides some valuable connections that point in that direction, and I would love to see more research on the topic.

 

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