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Self Nonself. 2010 Apr;1(2):123-128. Epub 2010 Feb 15.

Autoimmunity and asthma: The dirt on the hygiene hypothesis.

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The Department of Microbiology and Immunology; Brody School of Medicine; East Carolina University; Greenville, NC USA.


Self peptides shape T-cell development through selectional processes in the thymus and secondary lymphoid organs to promote a diverse and balanced repertoire of conventional and regulatory T cells. Foreign proteins and their derivative peptides permeate our mucosal tissues to constitute another diverse array of peptides that may specify and diversify the mucosal T-cell repertoire. Indeed, the distinction between self peptides and environmental foreign peptides may be academic if both are present constantly within the body. The premise here is that the plethora of foreign peptides, present ubiquitously in our environment and body, form homeostatic niches to foster highly diversified repertoires of conventional and regulatory T cells that recognize persistent environmental peptides as self. Highly diversified repertoires that recognize myriads of self and environmental foreign peptides as homeostatic ligands may be critical for adaptive distinctions of friend or foe in mucosal tissues. The change from our agrarian past to the highly sterile environments of today may adversely impact the diversity and concentrations of foreign peptides that shape the mucosal T-cell repertoire. Various hygiene hypotheses postulate that the lack of factors such as infectious pathogens, innate receptor engagement or Th1 bias is key to the marked increase in immunological disease in modern society. In this version of the hygiene hypothesis, highly diverse constellations of innocuous environmental peptides are postulated to be the critical factor for immune balance and homeostasis.

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