The putative role of proteolytic pathways in the pathogenesis of Type 1 diabetes mellitus: The 'autophagy' hypothesis

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Autoimmune diseases are a heterogeneous group of disorders affecting different organs and tissues. New tools, such as genome-wide association studies, have provided evidence for new susceptibility loci and candidate genes in the disease process including common susceptibility genes involved in the immunological synapse and T cell activation. Close linkages have been found in a number of diseases, including ankylosing spondylitis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (Type 1 diabetes mellitus). Evidence for some association with Type 1 diabetes was previously found in the region containing 5q15/. ERAP1 (endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 1) (rs30187, ARTS1).Recent data suggest that in eukaryotic cells in addition to the ubiquitin/proteasome system another proteolytic pathway may have a significant role in the autoimmunity process, i.e. the autophagic pathway which constitutes the principal regulated catabolic process mediated by lysosomes. Autophagy could play a role in MHC class I and class II self-antigen presentation at the basis of the autoimmunity process. Furthermore cross-talk among different proteolytic pathways was recently highlighted i.e. components processed in the ubiquitin/proteasome system possibly engaged in autophagic pathways.T1D is an autoimmune disease characterised by the destruction of pancreatic beta cells by autoreactive T cells. Immunological abnormalities can precede months to years the initial symptoms and clinical diagnosis. Our hypothesis suggests that in the autoimmune process autophagy can intervene at different levels, during the thymic selection process of T lymphocytes causing escape of autoreactive T cells, at the initiation stage of the disease, in the preclinical period or subsequently to the disease onset having a role at the level of perpetuation of the autoimmunity process.Supporting evidence derives from the already reported discovery of polymorphisms in autophagy-related genes in patients affected by several autoimmune conditions such as Systemic Lupus Erithematosus. In addition deregulated autophagy was detected in T cells from lupus-prone mice and also found in T cells from patients. Autophagy was found activated in osteoclasts from RA patients as demonstrated by the increased expression of Atg7 and Beclin-1.Our hypothesis to be unraveled could have, if correct, relevant implications for the management of autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes. In principle, novel therapeutic approaches could be established by targeting deregulated autophagy offering novel opportunities to personalized medicine in patients affected by the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-557
Number of pages5
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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