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J Autoimmun. 2001 May;16(3):303-8.

Antigen-presenting cell activation: a link between infection and autoimmunity?

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Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.


The onset of autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis is often thought to be associated with infection. This has led to studies of molecular mimicry between infectious agents and the self-antigens associated with autoimmunity. Despite many claims, however, a single causative infectious agent for autoimmunity has not been found. An alternative possibility is that many infectious agents are capable of non-specifically enhancing the likelihood of an autoimmune attack. Here we show how infectious agents may activate antigen-presenting cells leading to the activation of autoreactive T cells by otherwise innocuous antigens. The mechanism of activation involves upregulation of co-stimulatory molecules on the antigen-presenting cell resulting in a lowering of the threshold required for activation. These results help explain how diverse infectious agents could cause autoimmune disease in susceptible individuals.

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