Chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases have been the focus of many genome-wide association studies (GWAS) because they represent a significant cause of illness and morbidity, and many are heritable. Almost a decade of GWAS studies suggests that the pathological inflammation associated with these diseases is controlled by a limited number of networked immune system genes. Chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are enigmatic from an evolutionary perspective because they exert a negative affect on reproductive fitness. The persistence of these conditions may be partially explained by the important roles the implicated immune genes play in pathogen defense and other functions thought to be under strong natural selection in humans. The evolutionary reasons for chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease persistence and uneven distribution across populations are the focus of this review.
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