The role of human endogenous retroviruses in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases.
ABSTRACT This paper presents a new, recently formulated theory, which concerns the etiopathological process of autoimmune diseases. This theory takes into account the existence in the human genome, since approximately 40 million years, of so-called human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), which are transmitted to descendants "vertically" by the germ cells. It was recently established that these generally silent sequences perform some physiological roles, but occasionally become active and influence the development of some chronic diseases like diabetes, some neoplasms, chronic diseases of the nervous system (eg, sclerosis multiplex), schizophrenia and autoimmune diseases. We present a short synopsis of immunological processes involved in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, such as molecular mimicry, epitope spreading and activation of the superantigen. We then focus on experimental findings related to systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren's syndrome and some diseases of hepar and otorhinal tissues. We conclude the outline of this new model of the development of chronic diseases and indicate the conclusions important for the teaching of the basis of pathology.