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West J Med. 1992 Aug;157(2):133-8.

Molecular mimicry--hypothesis or reality?

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Department of Medicine and Physical Therapy, University of Tokyo School of Medicine, Japan.


A number of observations support molecular mimicry as a possible pathogenetic mechanism in diseases such as acute rheumatic fever, reactive arthritis after enteric infection or associated with Reiter's syndrome, myasthenia gravis, or even in rheumatoid arthritis. Molecular mimicry can be defined as a sharing of epitopes in linear or 3-dimensional presentation on disparate proteins from entirely different sources--for instance, group A streptococcal membranes and human cardiac myosin. How exposure to or infection with organisms sharing molecular similarity with antigens of the human host can evade tolerance and actually induce a self-reacting humoral or cellular immune response is still not clear; however, a large body of evidence has now been accumulated that documents apparent molecular mimicry mechanisms in these disorders. In some diseases, the molecular mimicry appears to involve human target organs and specific components of the infectious organism, whereas in others the host HLA cell surface molecules appear to share antigens with presumed bacterial or viral initiators of disease.

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