Infection, vaccines and other environmental triggers of autoimmunity

Autoimmunity. 2005 May;38(3):235-45. doi: 10.1080/08916930500050277.


The etiology of autoimmune diseases is still not clear but genetic, immunological, hormonal and environmental factors are considered to be important triggers. Most often autoimmunity is not followed by clinical symptoms unless an additional event such as an environmental factor favors an overt expression. Many environmental factors are known to affect the immune system and may play a role as triggers of the autoimmune mosaic.Infections: bacterial, viral and parasitic infections are known to induce and exacerbate autoimmune diseases, mainly by the mechanism of molecular mimicry. This was studied for some syndromes as for the association between SLE and EBV infection, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infection and more. Vaccines, in several reports were found to be temporally followed by a new onset of autoimmune diseases. The same mechanisms that act in infectious invasion of the host, apply equally to the host response to vaccination. It has been accepted for diphtheria and tetanus toxoid, polio and measles vaccines and GBS. Also this theory has been accepted for MMR vaccination and development of autoimmune thrombocytopenia, MS has been associated with HBV vaccination. Occupational and other chemical exposures are considered as triggers for autoimmunity. A debate still exists about the role of silicone implants in induction of scleroderma like disease.Not only foreign chemicals and agents have been associated with induction of autoimmunity, but also an intrinsic hormonal exposure, such as estrogens. This might explain the sexual dimorphism in autoimmunity.Better understanding of these environmental risk factors will likely lead to explanation of the mechanisms of onset and progression of autoimmune diseases and may lead to effective preventive involvement in specific high-risk groups. So by diagnosing a new patient with autoimmune disease a wide anamnesis work should be done.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / genetics
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmunity / genetics
  • Autoimmunity / immunology*
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Breast Implants / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infections / complications*
  • Infections / immunology
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Male
  • Molecular Mimicry / immunology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Parasitic Diseases / complications
  • Parasitic Diseases / immunology
  • Sex Factors
  • Silicone Gels / adverse effects
  • Vaccines / adverse effects*
  • Vaccines / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / complications
  • Virus Diseases / immunology


  • Silicone Gels
  • Vaccines