What is Autoimmunity?

Autoimmunity is the failure of an organism to recognize its own constituent parts as ''self'', which allows an immune response against its own cells and tissues. Any disease that results from such an aberrant immune response is termed an autoimmune disease. Prominent examples include Coeliac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1 (IDDM), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjögren's syndrome, Churg-Strauss Syndrome, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). ''See List of autoimmune diseases''.

The misconception that an individual's immune system is totally incapable of recognizing ''self'' antigens is not new. Paul Ehrlich, at the beginning of the twentieth century, proposed the concept of horror autotoxicus, wherein a 'normal' body does not mount an immune response against its own tissues. Thus, any autoimmune response was perceived to be abnormal and postulated to be connected with human disease. Now, it is accepted that autoimmune responses are an integral part of vertebrate immune systems (sometimes termed 'natural autoimmunity'), normally prevented from causing disease by the phenomenon of immunological tolerance to self-antigens. Autoimmunity should not be confused with alloimmunity.

Further Reading


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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011

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