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Immune recognition of self and non-self explored in new study

Unless you are an identical twin, you probably aren’t often mistaken for someone else. Likewise, our own sense of self as distinct from all other humans is deeply ingrained since early childhood.

The immune system, however, faces far greater challenges in distinguishing self from non-self. Should this complex surveillance network fail to identify a foreign intruder, like a bacterium or virus, the result may be serious, unchecked disease.

Under certain circumstances, however, the immune system can become over-vigilant, identifying our own tissues as foreign and targeting them for destruction, resulting in autoimmune disease. Autoimmune responses are also associated with some cancers.

In a new study, Arizona State University researcher Joshua LaBaer and his colleagues explore components of the immune system known as autoantibodies. While they have been implicated as central players in a range of serious autoimmune diseases, the study observes that autoantibodies are also found in healthy individuals.

This fact may make the diagnostic use of autoantibodies as sentinels of autoimmune disease more challenging, hence the importance of such investigations.

An improved awareness of the pervasiveness and role of autoantibodies in human health and disease may ultimately help in the design of better diagnostics and therapeutics against a range of illnesses.

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