Introduction

Autoimmune diseases in humans are chronic syndromes characterized by typical, often relapsing, clinical symptoms combined with diagnostic results of adaptive humoral (autoantibodies) or cellular (autoreactive T cells) responses directed against autoantigen-expressing tissues. Important human autoimmune diseases include autoimmune diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and myasthenia gravis. Remarkably, autoimmunity often associates with, or is triggered by virus infections and is associated with certain MHC alleles [1]. Endocrine organs such as the adrenal gland (Morbus Addison), the thyroid gland (Hashimoto thyroiditis, Graves disease) and endocrine cells in the stomach are often involved in autoimmunity [2]. Since there barely exists an organ where autoimmunity has not been reported, the frequent involvement of endocrine organs may reflect relatively easy diagnosis or special pathogenetic features. This review will focus on mechanisms involved in the activation and effector function of autoreactive T cells and attempts to explain some clinical observations in a novel way to suggest new therapeutic strategies.

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