The potential role of molecular mimicry by the anaerobic microbiota in the aetiology of autoimmune disease

Jamie English, Sheila Patrick, Linda D. Stewart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Autoimmune diseases are thought to develop as a consequence of various environmental and genetic factors, each of which contributes to dysfunctional immune responses and/or a breakdown in immunological tolerance towards native structures. Molecular mimicry by microbial components is among the environmental factors thought to promote a breakdown in immune tolerance, particularly through the presence of cross-reactive epitopes shared with the human host. While resident members of the microbiota are essential promoters of human health through immunomodulation, defence against pathogenic colonisation and conversion of dietary fibre into nutritional resources for host tissues, there may be an underappreciated role of these microbes in the aetiology and/or progression of autoimmune disease. An increasing number of molecular mimics are being identified amongst the anaerobic microbiota which structurally resemble endogenous components and, in some cases, for example the human ubiquitin mimic of Bacteroides fragilis and DNA methyltransferase of Roseburia intestinalis, have been associated with promoting antibody profiles characteristic of autoimmune diseases. The persistent exposure of molecular mimics from the microbiota to the human immune system is likely to be involved in autoantibody production that contributes to the pathologies associated with immune-mediated inflammatory disorders. Here-in, examples of molecular mimics that have been identified among resident members of the human microbiota and their ability to induce autoimmune disease through cross-reactive autoantibody production are discussed. Improved awareness of the molecular mimics that exist among human colonisers will help elucidate the mechanisms involved in the breakdown of immune tolerance that ultimately lead to chronic inflammation and downstream disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102721
Number of pages9
Early online date23 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Gastro-intestinal tract
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Anaerobes
  • Molecular mimicry
  • Microbiota
  • Microbiome


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