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J Autoimmun. 2010 Feb;34(1):38-44. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2009.08.001. Epub 2009 Aug 27.

Viral triggers for autoimmunity: is the 'glass of molecular mimicry' half full or half empty?

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Pharmazentrum/ZAFES, Clinic of the Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


In this review we want to consider some of the requirements for autoimmune disease to develop and how this may be reproduced in animal models. Besides a genetic predisposition, environmental triggering factors seem to play a central role in the etiology of many autoimmune diseases. In theory, a structural similarity or identity between the host and an invading pathogen might cause the immune system of the host to react not only to the pathogen but also to self-components. However, in order for such a process of molecular mimicry to induce autoimmunity the mechanisms of maintaining tolerance or ignorance to the self-components need to be circumvented. Subsequently, in order to advance autoimmunity to overt autoimmune disease the frequency and avidity of autoaggressive lymphocytes has to be of sufficient magnitude. Intuitively, one would assume that tolerance might be stronger to identical structures than to structures that just share a certain degree of similarity. Self-reactive lymphocytes with high-avidity are more likely to be deleted or functionally silenced by central and/or peripheral tolerance mechanisms. Thus, perfect mimicry between identical structures might fail in inducing autoimmunity because of efficient tolerance mechanisms. In contrast, imperfect mimicry between similar but not identical structures might on one hand circumvent tolerance but on the other hand result in the generation of lymphocytes with only low- to intermediate avidity. Here we examine animal models that use the concept of molecular mimicry as a potential mechanism for inducing or accelerating autoimmunity. We focus on the RIP-LCMV model for type 1 diabetes and the novel cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) model for autoimmune hepatitis, which use either identical or similar triggering and target antigens.

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