The incidence of autoimmune pathologies is increasing worldwide. This has stimulated interest on their etiopathogenesis, caused by a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. With the advent of genome-wide linkage, candidate gene and genome wide association studies, risk polymorphisms in autophagy-related genes were discovered in several autoimmune conditions suggesting the possible contribution of autophagy to their etiopathogenesis. Autophagy represents the principal catabolic process mediated by lysosomes used by eukaryotic cells and is strictly regulated by proteins belonging to the Atg family. The function of autophagy has been well characterized in various tissues and systems, but its role in the regulation of innate and adaptive immune systems has been only recently discovered. It plays a fundamental role in the modulation of thymocyte selection and in the generation of T lymphocyte repertoire by participating in the intracellular antigen presentation on MHC class-II molecules by thymic epithelial cells. Furthermore, the generation of mice with knockout for specific autophagy-related genes induced several immunological alterations, including defects in B and T cell compartments and in T cell activation. In this review we report recent evidence on the role of autophagy in autoimmunity and discuss its relevance to the pathogenesis of these diseases. We finally highlight that future research may disclose potential new therapeutic targets for the treatment of this category of disorders by modulating the autophagic pathway.
- Candidate autoimmune genes
- Innate/adaptive immune system
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy