Susceptibility to autoimmune diseases is dependent on multigenic inheritance, environmental factors, and stochastic events. Although there has been substantial progress in identifying predisposing genetic variants, a significant challenge facing autoimmune disease research is the identification of the specific events that trigger loss of tolerance, autoreactivity and ultimately autoimmune disease. Accordingly, studies have indicated that a wide range of extrinsic factors including drugs, chemicals, microbes, and other environmental factors can induce autoimmunity, particularly systemic autoimmune diseases such as lupus. This review describes a class of environmental factors, namely xenobiotics, epidemiologically linked to human autoimmunity. Mechanisms of xenobiotic autoimmune disease induction are discussed in terms of human and animal model studies with a focus on the role of inflammation and the innate immune response. We argue that localized tissue damage and chronic inflammation elicited by xenobiotic exposure leads to the release of self-antigens and damage-associated molecular patterns as well as the appearance of ectopic lymphoid structures and secondary lymphoid hypertrophy, which provide a milieu for the production of autoreactive B and T cells that contribute to the development and persistence of autoimmunity in predisposed individuals.
Keywords: animal model; autoimmunity; epidemiology; inflammation; xenobiotic.