The University of Arizona
Home Research
The Adelman Lab Print E-mail

The University of Arizona Arthritis Center Current Research Study: Human Endogenous Retroviruses as Etiological Agents of Autoimmune Disease


Dr. Miranda Adelman in her labMiranda K. Adelman, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the University of Arizona Arthritis Center, is conducting an important study to better understand the pathways leading to autoimmune disease. Her groundbreaking work at the Center is focused on the role of human endogenous retroviruses in autoimmune disease. Dr. Adelman wants to find out what role these retroviruses play in autoimmune disease.

The cause of complex autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Sjogren’s syndrome is not fully understood; however, there is now considerable circumstantial evidence that the development of autoimmune diseases is dependent on a combination of environmental, genetic and retroviral factors.

Retroviral-like particles and antibodies to retroviral proteins have been characterized in autoimmune disease. We now know that the retroviral-like particles isolated from autoimmune patients predominately belong to the group of retroviral elements termed human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). HERVs are non-infectious and are present in everyone.

To understand the role endogenous retroviruses have in autoimmune disease, Dr. Adelman is studying the tissue and blood of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus to investigate how retroviruses mimic proteins that trigger the immune system.

The purpose of Dr. Adelman’s study is to investigate the role of autoantibodies and antigenic or molecular mimicry by HERVs in autoimmune diseases. The premise of molecular mimicry is that a protein encoded by a HERV that is very similar to a self-protein (autoantigen) results in the production of autoantibodies that are cross-reactive between the two proteins.

Pathology arises when the autoantibodies form immune-complexes with autoantigens that subsequently are deposited in tissues, particularly the basement membranes of the kidneys. Due to the widespread distribution of autoantigens, large numbers of immune-complexes are continuously produced and deposited, which result in the activation of complement and recruitment of inflammatory cells. Study results will have important implications for the development of treatments that block the causes of autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Adelman joined the University of Arizona Arthritis Center in 2003 as a postdoctoral research associate and was appointed to the position of research assistant professor in July 2005. She received her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arizona in 2003 under the tutelage of Dr. John Marchalonis.

Her training as a molecular immunologist is strengthened by having majored in Virology and minored in Immunology while in graduate school. She carried out projects in the molecular immunology of natural antibodies, proteolytic antibodies and the evolutionary origins of the natural antibody repertoire that have direct and ongoing consequences for the mechanisms of autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition to Dr. Marchalonis, Drs. David Yocum, Nafees Ahmad, Rodney Adam and Douglas Lake served on Miranda’s Ph.D. dissertation committee. Dr. Adelman is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in Epidemiology in the College of Public Health at UA.


Adelman Laboratory Members


Miranda K. Adelman, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor

Department of Medicine

The University of Arizona Arthritis Center


Samuel F. Schluter, Ph.D.

Research Associate Professor

Department of Immunobiology

An in integral collaborator, Dr. Schluter is a faculty member of the Immunobiology Department at UA. Dr. Schluter’s specialty is molecular immunology and evolution of the immune system. Drs. Adelman and Schluter have worked together on several sponsored projects focused on the immunomodulatory antibodies in health and autoimmune disease. 


Seenaiah Byreddy, M.B.B.S.

Research Associate

Dr. Byreddy is a graduate of Gandhi Medical College in Hyderabad, India. Dr. Byreddy is a visiting scholar in the Adelman laboratory.


Dov Brandis, B.S.

Research Technician

A recent graduate of the University of Arizona, Dov joined the lab in 2008 during his senior year of college. Dov received honors independent study credit for his student research with Dr. Adelman. He now works in the lab as a research technician. 


Willa Hopkins

Student, NIH High School Student Research Program

Willa is a participant in the NIH-funded High School Student Research Program in the College of Medicine at UA. She is gaining hands-on research experience during her summer research project with Dr. Adelman.