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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2007;79:127-47.

Molecular mimicry in multiple sclerosis.

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Department of Neurology, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132, USA.


One of the most common demyelinating central nervous system (CNS) diseases in humans is multiple sclerosis (MS). The disease can be very debilitating with vision loss, motor and sensory disturbances, and cognitive impairment. The clinical course may present as a relapsing-remitting disease course, a progressive disease course, or a combination thereof. The etiology of MS is unknown. Though many viruses have been shown to be associated with MS, no one virus has ever been demonstrated to be the cause of MS. In addition, MS is thought to have an autoimmune component. Molecular mimicry is one hypothesis put forth which could reconcile the diverse pathology and etiology of MS. Molecular mimicry occurs when peptides from pathogens share sequence or structural similarities with self-antigens. Infection with various pathogens, each with its individual molecular mimic to a CNS antigen, may explain the inability of investigators to link one specific virus to MS. Molecular mimicry may be mediated through human leukocyte antigen class I- and class II-restricted T cells and antibodies, which may explain the diversity in phenotype. Aspects of molecular mimicry will be discussed in relation to each of these immune system components. Examples of various molecular mimics will be discussed with a particular focus on the CNS and MS. Molecular mimicry alone may not be able to induce disease; priming of the immune system by infection with a pathogen that carries a molecular mimic to self may have to be followed by a later nonspecific immunologic challenge in order for disease to be initiated. Recent research into this priming and triggering of disease will be discussed in relation to an animal model for MS.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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