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An Attack on Self Tissues

December 14, 2021


When the immune system mistakes self tissues for nonself and mounts an inappropriate attack, the result is an autoimmune disease.There are many different autoimmune diseases. Some examples are Wegener's granulomatosis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Autoimmune diseases can each affect the body in different ways. For instance, the autoimmune reaction is directed against the brain in multiple sclerosis and the gut in Crohn's disease. In other diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), affected tissues and organs may vary among individuals with the same disease.

Many autoimmune diseases are rare. As a group, however, they afflict millions of Americans. Most autoimmune diseases strike women more often than men, particularly affecting women of working age and during their childbearing years.

Inappropriate Immune Responses

In some people, a usually harmless substance such as a food, pollen or animal dander provokes the inappropriate immune response known as allergy.

In 1967 a husband and wife team of NIAID-supported scientists discovered the IgE antibody that causes most allergic reactions.Nonallergic people produce small amounts of this antibody, but allergy sufferers produce vast quantities as a reaction to allergens.

The IgE antibodies bind to two types of cells, basophils (circulating in blood) and mast cells, that are plentiful in the lungs, skin, tongue, and linings of the nose and intestinal tract. These cells then release histamines and other chemicals that cause allergic symptoms.

When the susceptible person encounters the same allergen again, it attaches to the IgE antibodies already bound to basophils and mast cells, starting the same chain reaction.

Inner-City Asthma Study

In 1997, a large NIAID-supported study documented that a combination of cockroach allergy and exposure to insects is a major cause of asthma-related illness and hospitalizations among inner-city children.
Scientists with NIAID's National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study looked at 476 children living in the New York City area. Most were either African American (78%) or Hispanic (16%). The researchers measured levels of cockroach, dust mite, and cat allergens in the children's homes.

Risk factors

Their discovery: children who were both allergic to cockroaches and exposed to high levels of cockroach allergens were hospitalized or asthma 3.3 times more oftenLittle boy with "spacer" bag


As part of the Inner City Asthma Project, this little boy is using a "spacer," a device that can be added on to an inhaler.

A spacer allows for greater dispersion of the aerosol medication that's expelled from the inhaler.

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