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Intern Med. 2001 Apr;40(4):275-84.

Apoptosis in autoimmune diseases.

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First Department of Internal Medicine, Nagasaki University School of Medicine.


Over the past decade, our understanding of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, has increased greatly, with the identification of some of the major components of the apoptotic program and the processes regulating their activation. Although apoptosis is an intrinsic process present in all cells, it can be regulated by extrinsic factors, including growth factors, cell surface receptors, cellular stress and hormones. Apoptotis plays an important role in autoimmune diseases. Normal thyrocytes could induce apoptosis of infiltrating activated T cells and protect against attack by such cells, i.e., the normal thyroid tissues act as an immune privileged site. In Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT), Fas-mediated apoptosis of thyrocytes in a section of tissues is due to at least two separate mechanisms, the first by infiltrating activated T cells, and the other by FasL-positive thyrocytes in a suicidal or fratricidal fashion. A common feature of autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the breakdown of tolerance of self antigens, a consequence of which is the production of autoantibodies reactive with multiple self proteins. Evidence is accumulating that modifications of autoantigens during apoptosis lead to the development of autoantibodies by bypassing the normal mechanisms of tolerance. Tissue homeostasis is maintained through a balance between cell proliferation and apoptotic cell death. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by pronounced hyperplasia of the synovial tissue, cell infiltration and periarticular osteoporosis. Enhanced Bcl-2 expression and NF-kappaB nuclear translocation of synovial cells are induced by inflammatory cytokines and/or growth factors. These synovial cells become resistant toward apoptosis triggered by various stimuli. The infiltrated cells which are defect in activation-induced cell death can cause autoimmunity by allowing the survival of autoreactive T and B cells. These data suggest that apoptosis might be implicated with the pathogenesis of autoimmunity, whereas the mechanisms might be distinct in each autoimmune disease.

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