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Cell Death Differ. 1999 Jan;6(1):6-12.

Autoantigens as substrates for apoptotic proteases: implications for the pathogenesis of systemic autoimmune disease.

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Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA.


Systemic autoimmune diseases are a genetically complex, heterogeneous group of diseases in which the immune system targets a diverse, but highly specific group of intracellular autoantigens. The clustering and marked concentration of these molecules in the surface blebs of apoptotic cells, and their modification by apoptosis-specific proteolytic cleavage and/or phosphorylation at these sites, has focused attention on a unique apoptotic setting as the potential initiating stimulus for systemic autoimmunity. This apoptotic event is likely to (i) occur in a microenvironment containing high concentrations of the targeted antigens, (ii) be pro-immune in nature (e.g. viral infection), and (iii) allow suprathreshold concentrations of antigen with non-tolerized structure (either novel fragments, post-translational modifications, or complexes) to enter the class II processing pathway and initiate a primary immune response. Defective clearance or reduced anti-inflammatory consequences of apoptotic material may be important susceptibility factors in this group of diseases. Once the primary immune response to apoptotic antigens has been initiated, other apoptotic events (occurring in the course of homeostasis or damage) may stimulate the secondary immune response with less stringency, resulting in flares.

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