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APMIS. 2016 Jan-Feb;124(1-2):88-104. doi: 10.1111/apm.12487.

The role of molecular mimicry and other factors in the association of Human Endogenous Retroviruses and autoimmunity.

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Immunology Research Group, Research Institute in Healthcare Sciences, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK.
Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, UK.


Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) have been implicated in autoimmune and other diseases. Molecular mimicry has been postulated as a potential mechanism of autoimmunity. Exogenous viruses have also been reported to be associated with the same diseases, as have genetic and environmental factors. If molecular mimicry were to be shown to be an initiating mechanism of some autoimmune diseases, then therapeutic options of blocking antibodies and peptides might be of benefit in halting diseases at the outset. Bioinformatic and molecular modelling techniques have been employed to investigate molecular mimicry and the evidence for the association of HERVs and autoimmunity is reviewed. The most convincing evidence for molecular mimicry is in rheumatoid arthritis, where HERV K-10 shares amino acid sequences with IgG1Fc, a target for rheumatoid factor. Systemic lupus erythematosus is an example of a condition associated with several autoantibodies, and several endogenous and exogenous viruses have been reported to be associated with the disease. The lack of a clear link between one virus and this condition, and the spectrum of clinical manifestations, suggests that genetic, environmental and the inflammatory response to a virus or viruses might also be major factors in the pathogenesis of lupus and other autoimmune conditions. Where there are strong associations between a virus and an autoimmune condition, such as in hepatitis C and cryoglobulinaemia, the use of bioinformatics and molecular modelling can also be utilized to help to understand the role of molecular mimicry in how HERVs might trigger disease.


DNA; Human Endogenous Retrovirus; bioinformatics; cryoglobulinaemia; molecular mimicry; rheumatoid arthritis; systemic lupus erythematosus

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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