Molecular mimicry in infectious encephalitis and neuritis: binding of antibodies against infectious agents on Western blots of human nervous tissue

J Infect. 2000 Jul;41(1):32-8. doi: 10.1053/jinf.2000.0661.


Objectives: To study the occurrence of cross-reactivities of antibodies against infectious agents with human nervous tissue.

Methods: Binding of 25 antibodies against 17 neurotropic pathogens comprising Borrelia burgdorferi, Toxoplasma gondii, and various DNA and RNA viruses to Western blots of human cortex and myelin from central and peripheral nervous system was investigated.

Results: Fourteen of the 25 antibodies tested showed binding to Western blots of human nervous tissue, suggesting the presence of shared epitopes. Binding of 11 antibodies against 10 pathogens to cortex and/or myelin correlated with the tissue targeted by neuropathological lesions. Three antibodies did not show such correlation; 11 antibodies did not bind at all.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that shared epitopes between infectious agents and human nervous tissues are more common than previously expected. Thus, molecular mimicry should be considered more frequently as a possible pathogenetic mechanism, among others, inducing tissue damage in encephalitis and neuritis caused by various pathogens.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Borrelia burgdorferi Group / immunology
  • Central Nervous System
  • Cerebral Cortex / immunology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / microbiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / parasitology
  • Cerebral Cortex / virology
  • Cross Reactions
  • DNA Viruses / immunology
  • Encephalitis / etiology
  • Encephalitis / immunology*
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Mimicry / immunology*
  • Myelin Sheath / immunology*
  • Myelin Sheath / microbiology
  • Myelin Sheath / parasitology
  • Myelin Sheath / virology
  • Neuritis / etiology
  • Neuritis / immunology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System
  • RNA Viruses / immunology
  • Toxoplasma / immunology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Protozoan
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Epitopes