Background: The cause of autoimmunity, which is unknown, is investigated from a different angle, i.e., the defect in immune 'system', to explain the cause of autoimmunity.
Methodology/principal findings: Repeated immunization with antigen causes systemic autoimmunity in mice otherwise not prone to spontaneous autoimmune diseases. Overstimulation of CD4(+) T cells led to the development of autoantibody-inducing CD4(+) T (aiCD4(+) T) cell which had undergone T cell receptor (TCR) revision and was capable of inducing autoantibodies. The aiCD4(+) T cell was induced by de novo TCR revision but not by cross-reaction, and subsequently overstimulated CD8(+) T cells, driving them to become antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). These CTLs could be further matured by antigen cross-presentation, after which they caused autoimmune tissue injury akin to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Conclusions/significance: Systemic autoimmunity appears to be the inevitable consequence of over-stimulating the host's immune 'system' by repeated immunization with antigen, to the levels that surpass system's self-organized criticality.