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 and protect against disease. There is increasing evidence that environmental exposures can adversely affect the efficacy and function of our immune system.
What NIEHS is doing
In the field of immunotoxicology, NIEHS supports research projects exploring the role environmental exposures play in immune system dysfunction. Examples of NIEHS-supported projects include research on the mechanisms by which the environment influences epigenetic immune programming, an investigation on the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which the antimicrobial triclosan suppresses the function of immune system mast cells, and the role air pollution plays in the immune response to tuberculosis infection and the development of disease. Of interest are also projects examining the effect of early infections on the body’s response to later contaminant exposure, as well as possible synergistic effects caused by interactions between environmental factors and infectious agents.
There is growing evidence for an environmental component in the development of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases develop when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal, healthy tissues and organs in the body. 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 autoimmunity and the biological mechanisms by which exposures might influence autoimmune diseases. For example, NIEHS-supported scientists are studying the relationship between autoimmunity and exposure to silica and mercury, mechanisms involved in ultraviolet light inflammation in the autoimmune disease lupus, and the role of trichlolorethylene (TCE) exposure in the development of autoimmune liver disease.
For additional information on what NIEHS grantees are doing, visit our Who We Fund tool.