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Overview of autoimmunity

Noel R Rose, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Peter H Schur, MD
Deputy Editor
Paul L Romain, MD


This topic review provides an overview of autoimmunity. The discussion includes the common features underlying all of these disorders, the criteria for recognizing human disease, and the major new approaches to improve their treatment.


Autoimmunity is an immune response directed against an antigen within the body of the host. The definition does not distinguish whether the response is induced by a foreign or autochthonous antigen. It usually involves both T-cell and B-cell responses. It only requires that the adaptive immune response be directed to a self-antigen.

Autoimmune disease is a pathologic condition caused by the adaptive autoimmune response. However, these definitions can be unclear since it is frequently difficult to assign causality when dealing with a human disease. It is useful, therefore, to consider the evidence of an autoimmune etiology of a human disease with three degrees of stringency [1,2]:

Direct evidence

Indirect evidence

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 10, 2017.
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