Send to

Choose Destination
Discov Med. 2018 Jun;25(140):299-308.

Re-framing the theory of autoimmunity in the era of the microbiome: persistent pathogens, autoantibodies, and molecular mimicry.

Author information

Autoimmunity Research Foundation, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, USA.


The theory of autoimmunity was developed at a time when the human body was regarded as largely sterile. Antibodies in patients with chronic inflammatory disease could consequently not be tied to persistent human pathogens. The concept of the "autoantibody" was created to reconcile this phenomenon. Today, however, the discovery of the human microbiome has revolutionized our understanding of human biology. Humans are superorganisms that harbor trillions of persistent microbial cells. Indeed, vast human microbiomes have been detected in human tissue and blood. These microbial ecosystems harbor thousands of newly identified bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms -- most of which can act as pathogens under conditions of immunosuppression. The theory of autoimmunity must be revised to account for the human microbiome. Here, we propose a model in which "autoantibodies" are created in response to chronic, persistent microbiome pathogens. The structural homology (molecular mimicry) between pathogen and host proteins can result in "collateral damage" to surrounding human tissue. This calls for a paradigm shift in autoimmune disease treatment. Immunosuppressive medications palliate inflammatory symptoms at the expense of microbiome health and balance. In contrast, treatments that support the immune system in autoimmune disease could allow patients to target pathogens at the root of the disease process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Discovery Medicine
Loading ...
Support Center