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Amplification of autoimmune disease by infection

David N Posnett12* and Dmitry Yarilin12

  • * Corresponding author: David N Posnett

Author Affiliations

1 Immunology Program, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

2 Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2005, 7:74-84  doi:10.1186/ar1691

Published: 10 February 2005


Reports of infection with certain chronic persistent microbes (herpesviruses or Chlamydiae) in human autoimmune diseases are consistent with the hypothesis that these microbes are reactivated in the setting of immunodeficiency and often target the site of autoimmune inflammation. New experimental animal models demonstrate the principle. A herpesvirus or Chlamydia species can be used to infect mice with induced transient autoimmune diseases. This results in increased disease severity and even relapse. The evidence suggests that the organisms are specifically imported to the inflammatory sites and cause further tissue destruction, especially when the host is immunosuppressed. We review the evidence for the amplification of autoimmune inflammatory disease by microbial infection, which may be a general mechanism applicable to many human diseases. We suggest that patients with autoimmune disorders receiving immunosuppressing drugs should benefit from preventive antiviral therapy.