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Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Oct;107 Suppl 5:667-72.

Evidence for the role of environmental agents in the initiation or progression of autoimmune conditions.

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  • 1Division of RHeumatology/Allergy and Clinical Immunology, University of Califronia at Davis School of Medicine, 95616, USA.


The concordance of autoimmune disease among identical twins is virtually always less than 50% and often in the 25-40% range. This observation, as well as epidemic clustering of some autoimmune diseases following xenobiotic exposure, reinforces the thesis that autoimmune disease is secondary to both genetic and environmental factors. Because nonliving agents do not have genomes, disease characteristics involving nonliving xenobiotics are primarily secondary to host phenotype and function. In addition, because of individual genetic susceptibilities based not only on major histocompatibility complex differences but also on differences in toxin metabolism, lifestyles, and exposure rates, individuals will react differently to the same chemicals. With these comments in mind it is important to note that there have been associations of a number of xenobiotics with human autoimmune disease, including mercury, iodine, vinyl chloride, canavanine, organic solvents, silica, l-tryptophan, particulates, ultraviolet radiation, and ozone. In addition, there is discussion in the literature that raises the possibility that xenobiotics may also exacerbate an existing autoimmune disease. In this article we discuss these issues and, in particular, the evidence for the role of environmental agents in the initiation or progression of autoimmune conditions. With the worldwide deterioration of the environment, this is a particularly important subject for human health.

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