Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of autoimmunity. Animals and humans exposed to natural infections have a reduced rate of autoimmune diseases. There is increasing evidence that immune stimulation prevents autoimmune diseases. Our hypothesis is that the process of the development of pathogenic cells involved in autoimmunity can be modulated by early stimulation of the immune system in autoimmunity prone individuals This allows for the upregulation of cytokines and growth factors that influence the generation of regulatory cells involved in autoimmunity. As we live in a 'cleaner environment' the decreasing chances of natural infection in the general population may contribute to the induction of autoimmunity because the developing immune system is not exposed to stimulation that may be necessary to generate regulatory cells involved in the modulation and prevention of autoimmunity. Immunization with certain vaccines may provide an alternative approach to stimulate the immune system to modulate or prevent the generation of pathogenic cells involved in autoimmunity by induction of regulatory cells.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.