Autoimmune Disease and Immunotoxicology
Mike Humble, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Our immune system is made of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend our body against infectious agents, also called pathogens. Environmental exposures can sometimes adversely affect our immune system, and there is increasing evidence that exposure to a contaminant can decrease our immune system’s ability to fight infection.
What NIEHS is doing
In the field of immunotoxicology, NIEHS supports scientists who are exploring how environmental exposures can cause immune system dysfunction. These scientists are also examining the effect of early infections on the body’s response to later exposure to contaminants, as well as possible synergistic effects caused by interactions between environmental factors and infectious agents. Grantees are conducting research on how the environment influences epigenetic immune programming, how early arsenic exposure affects response to H1N1 influenza, and how the immune system responds to pesticide exposure.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is evidence that autoimmune diseases likely involve an environmental component. Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system mistakes part of the body as a pathogen and attacks it. Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and psoriasis are just a few examples of autoimmune diseases.
NIEHS-funded research is examining the role environmental exposures play in the development and exacerbation of autoimmune diseases and the biological mechanisms by which exposures might influence autoimmune diseases. For example, grantees are studying the mechanisms at work in asbestos-induced autoimmune responses, mercury exposure and autoimmune heart disease, and how estrogen interacts with the immune system to cause adverse health effects.
For additional information on what NIEHS grantees are doing, visit our Who We Fund tool.