Autoinflammation: Lessons from the study of familial Mediterranean fever

J Autoimmun. 2019 Nov;104:102305. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2019.102305. Epub 2019 Jul 20.


Autoinflammatory disorders represent a heterogeneous group of systemic inflammatory diseases caused by genetic or acquired defects in key components of the innate immunity. Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) is the most common among the other clinical phenotypes of the rare hereditary periodic fevers (HPFs) syndromes. FMF is associated with mutations in the MEFV gene encoding pyrin and is characterized by recurrent, often stress-provoked attacks of fever and serositis, but sometimes also by chronic subclinical inflammation. FMF is prevalent in Greece and other countries of the eastern Mediterranean region. Over the last 17 years, our group has focused on FMF as a model suitable for the research on innate immunity and particularly the role of neutrophils. Therefore, the study of Greek patients with FMF has yielded lessons across several levels: the epidemiology of the disease in Greece, the spectrum of its clinical manifestations and potential overlaps with other idiopathic inflammatory conditions, the demonstration of its rather complex and heterogeneous genetic background and the suggestion of a novel mechanism involved in the crosstalk between environmental stress and inflammation. Mechanistically, during FMF attack, neutrophils release chromatin structures called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), which are decorated with bioactive IL-1β. REDD1 (regulated in development and DNA damage responses 1), that encodes a stress-related mTOR repressor, has been found to be the most significantly upregulated gene in neutrophils during disease attacks. Upon adrenergic stress, REDD1-induced autophagy triggers a pyrin-driven IL-1β maturation, and the release of IL-1β-bearing NETs. Consequently, not only the mode of action of IL-1β-targeting therapies is explained, but also new treatment prospects emerge with the evaluation of old or the design of new drugs targeting autophagy-induced NETosis. Information gained from FMF studies may subsequently be applied in more complex but still relevant inflammatory conditions, such as adult-onset Still's disease, gout, ulcerative colitis and Behçet's disease.

Keywords: Autoinflammation; Autophagy; Familial Mediterranean fever; IL-1β; Neutrophils.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Familial Mediterranean Fever* / genetics
  • Familial Mediterranean Fever* / immunology
  • Familial Mediterranean Fever* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Mutation*
  • Pyrin* / genetics
  • Pyrin* / immunology


  • MEFV protein, human
  • Pyrin