Molecular Mimicry as a Mechanism of Autoimmune Disease

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A variety of mechanisms have been suggested as the means by which infections can initiate and/or exacerbate autoimmune diseases. One mechanism is molecular mimicry, where a foreign antigen shares sequence or structural similarities with self-antigens. Molecular mimicry has typically been characterized on an antibody or T cell level. However, structural relatedness between pathogen and self does not account for T cell activation in a number of autoimmune diseases. A proposed mechanism that could have been misinterpreted for molecular mimicry is the expression of dual T cell receptors (TCR) on a single T cell. These T cells have dual reactivity to both foreign and self-antigens leaving the host vulnerable to foreign insults capable of triggering an autoimmune response. In this review, we briefly discuss what is known about molecular mimicry followed by a discussion of the current understanding of dual TCRs. Finally, we discuss three mechanisms, including molecular mimicry, dual TCRs, and chimeric TCRs, by which dual reactivity of the T cell may play a role in autoimmune diseases.

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