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J Autoimmun. 1992 Apr;5 Suppl A:61-6.

Are endogenous retroviruses involved in human autoimmune disease?

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Clinical Immunology Section, Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital, San Antonio, TX.


A role for viruses in the etiopathogenesis of human autoimmune diseases has long been suspected but has not yet been proven. In Sjögren's syndrome (SS), there is continuing experimental support for the possible involvement of Epstein-Barr virus. Since the advent of AIDS, there is also great interest in retroviruses and autoimmune disease. We previously reported that 30% of SS patients and 36% of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients have serum antibodies to the p24 gag protein of HIV-1. We now report that two mechanisms classic for retroviruses (molecular mimicry and immunosuppression) may be operative in SS and SLE. The p24 gag protein shares a proline-rich epitope with the Sm nucleoprotein to which many SLE patients have antibodies. The impaired lymphocyte activation seen in peripheral blood T cells in SS patients is also seen in a human T cell line infected with an A-type retroviral particle linked to SS. Many studies suggest that endogenous retroviral sequences are important in immunoregulation. We now suggest that endogenous retroviral sequences may also be important in the etiology and pathogenesis of SS and SLE.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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